IFEX ALERT: SOLOMON ISLANDS GOVERNMENT CONFIRMS LIFTING OF MEDIARESTRICTIONS

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IFEX
ALERT: SOLOMON ISLANDS GOVERNMENT CONFIRMS LIFTING OF MEDIA RESTRICTIONS

SOURCE: Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Suva, Fiji Islands

**Updates IFEX alerts of 15 July, 7 July, 5 July, 2 July, 30 June and 3 February 1999. See: Internet site: http://www.ifex.org/  **

SUVA, Fiji Islands (October 28, 1999 - PINA/IFEX) - State-of-emergency media restrictions in the Solomon Islands have ended, a government minister confirmed on October 27, 1999.

The Minister of State Assisting the Prime Minister, Alfred Sasako, said in a letter to the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, "I can confirm that restrictions, which applied in the four months to October 15, 1999, are no longer applicable since the state of emergency has lapsed." He was replying to a letter from Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation General Manager and PINA executive Johnson Honimae. This questioned a statement by a senior officer in the Prime Minister's office that although the state of emergency had ended the media restrictions still applied to coverage of ethnic tension.

Solomon Islands delegates attending the 1999 PINA convention in Suva, Fiji Islands, on October 11 had briefed fellow delegates that the media restrictions were about to end. PINA had protested against the introduction of the restrictions. PINA's President, William Parkinson, personally met with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, and raised PINA's concerns. He got assurances from the Prime Minister that media freedom would be respected. According to PINA members in the Solomon Islands it was.

BACKGROUND:

On June 28, the Solomon Islands' government introduced emergency powers restricting media reporting. This followed the declaration of a state of emergency following ethnic tension on the main island, Guadalcanal. Those convicted of breaching the emergency restrictions could be jailed for up to two years and fined up to $Solomons 5,000 (approximately. US$ 1,035). The restrictions forbid printing, broadcasting or communicating information which incites violence or is likely to cause racial or communal disharmony. They also forbid printing, broadcasting or communicating information "prejudicial" to the safety or interests of the state, or likely to cause "disaffection" with the government, or "hatred of contempt" for the administration of justice or national security. The powers also restricted the printing, broadcasting or communicating of information from official documents.

PINA urged the Solomon Islands' government to lift the restrictions. PINA said these restrictions date from colonial times and are not appropriate for a modern democracy. PINA said it was sad to see media restrictions like this imposed in a country which has one of the best records of media freedom in the region.

Open debate and clear credible communication are essential in times of national disaster or civil unrest, it said. Remove it and the media are replaced by rumor and speculation, which can only make matters worse, PINA said.

Guadalcanal is where Honiara, the Solomons Islands capital, is located. A Guadalcanal militant movement has been trying to drive out people who come from another major island, Malaita. The movement claimed that Malaitans dominated government and business and were increasingly occupying the lands of the Guadalcanal people. Thousands of Malaitans fled back to Malaita following a series of attacks by the militants. Honiara became the capital of the then British Solomon Islands after Word War II. It grew from a base and port built by United States forces during the battle to retake the Solomon Islands from the Japanese.

For further information, contact: Nina Ratulele, Coordinator PINA Pacific Freedom of Information Network Pacific Islands News Association Mailing Address: Pacific Islands News Association Private Mail Bag, Suva Fiji Islands Street Address: Level 2, Damodar Centre 46 Gordon Street Suva, Fiji Islands Tel: +679 303623 Fax: +679 303943 E-mail: pina@is.com.fj  Internet site: http://www.pressasia.org/PFA/ 

The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of PINA. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit PINA.

DISTRIBUTED BY THE INTERNATIONAL FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION EXCHANGE (IFEX) CLEARING HOUSE 489 College Street Toronto (ON) M6G 1A5 CANADA Tel: +1 416 515 9622 Fax: +1 416 515 7879 Alerts e-mail: alerts@ifex.org  General e-mail: ifex@ifex.org  Internet site: http://www.ifex.org/ 

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