The Solomon Islands Government has seemingly confirmed it will block some foreign journalists from entering the country, declaring that reporters who are “demeaning” or engage in “racial profiling” by attacking its ties with China will be banned.
The office of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has repeatedly berated the ABC’s Four Corners program, which explored China’s growing presence across Solomon Islands.
On Wednesday the office issued an extraordinary and lengthy statement once again targeting the national broadcaster and Four Corners, accusing the program of engaging in racial stereotyping and the “intentional use of misinformation and distribution of pre-conceived prejudicial information”.
The ABC has already rejected those accusations, saying it stands by the episode and highlighting that its main interview subjects were Solomon Islanders raising concerns about China’s presence in the country, rather than foreign experts.
But the statement from Sogavare’s office insists that the ABC’s scrutiny of China’s actions in Solomon Islands amounted to “racial profiling”, declaring that the broadcaster was “trying to tell the Solomon Islands people that because the Government of Solomon Islands is opening up to partners who are not, in the opinion of ABC, white and does not operate a democratic system it is wrong, unfit and corrupt.”
It then seems to use that claim as a basis for entry bans on reporters, saying “the Constitution of Solomon Islands protects Solomon Islands from racial discrimination and the government of Solomon Islands will ensure that racial practices are eliminated from Solomon Islands.”
“ABC or other foreign media must understand that the manner in which journalists are allowed conduct themselves in other [countries] does not give them the right to operate in the same manner in the Pacific,” it reads.
“The Pacific is not the same as Australia or United States. When you chose to come to our Pacific Islands, be respectful, be courteous and accord the appropriate protocols.”
“Such organisations or journalists who possess such qualities will not be allowed to enter Solomon Islands and other Pacific Islands nations.”
The statement does not provide any details about exactly how this ban would be implemented, or exactly what restrictions might be imposed on foreign reporters.
It’s not clear exactly when the new rules will be implemented, whether any guidelines have yet been drafted, or whether they will apply to all foreign journalists.
Right now, Australians who wish to enter the country, including journalists, are able to apply for a visa on arrival.
The ABC first revealed earlier this week that Solomon Islands may introduce new restrictions on foreign journalists perceived as hostile to the government.
The ABC also revealed that Foreign Affairs officials complained to Australia’s High Commissioner Lachlan Strahan about the Four Corners programme, although Sogavare’s office insisted the government had not “summoned” Dr Strahan, but simply raised concerns about the programme in a “neighbourly chat.”
It’s not clear what officials pressed Dr Strahan to do in the wake of the Four Corners episode. The ABC has editorial independence from the federal government which means ministers and senior officials cannot exert any control over what it puts to air.
But the Prime Minister’s statement said the government was “deeply concerned that such offensive materials are produced by ABC and are allowed to be broadcasted to Pacific Islands states.”
Some Solomon Islands reporters are already increasingly worried that press freedoms in the country are beginning to erode.
The Solomon Islands government has moved to replace the board of the publicly funded broadcaster SIBC and has stripped the organisation of its status as a state-owned enterprise, although it insists it will not try to control any editorial content.
It has also been exploring the possibility of setting up a state-owned newspaper, which could have serious financial ramifications for private media outlets in Solomon Islands.