DEAR Editor,

‘In reporting confidence comes with truth not spin.”

Some years ago, I recall reading an article by a young Irish journalist, Seamus Conboy, writing in the ‘’The Journal,’ perhaps an Irish publication, when he said:

“People have become so accustomed to bad news in recent years that good news is often lost in the noise. We have become cynical; we expect the worst of our politicians, expect their decisions to be the wrong ones. And some media outlets will play on this.

“But if we let the good news be drowned out by the bad, we will stunt our recovery. Recovery won’t happen overnight. and it might be delayed if we allow a negative narrative to smother our confidence.

“This difficult period in our history is not behind us yet, but we are getting there. There is hope. We need this hope; we need to be confident, if we want to get back on our feet. We can share this confidence or we can continue to pile on the despair. Whichever we choose, it will have a knock on effect on our economy, and on our entire society.”

I looked up the writers sentiments again after reading recent articles on the prevailing situation in the Solomon Islands.  The articles, on the whole, painted a depressing picture of happenings at ‘home and  prompted this letter in the hope that, despite what might seems a not too favourable situation currently, reporters and journalists, particularly foreign ones, writing about events in the Solomons will try be more objective, more understanding and more encouraging in presenting their stories.  That is not to say the news should be distorted by ‘spin’ only a narrative that can lead to confidence – and confidence comes with truth not spin. ‘

 Here are a couple of examples of stories written by the well known Pacific journalist Catherine Wilson on 21 December 2017 when reporting on the Solomon Islands.  She writes as she sees the situation but I am left with the feeling there might be an element of cynicism and doubt.

“The dusty streets of Honiara are bustling. Once ravaged by militia fighting, 14 years of peacekeeping by the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands now sees men, women and children at markets, schools and shops, confident and free.”

“But the future of the vast archipelago of rainforest-covered islands to Australia’s northeast is still work in progress. Long term peace and stability after the ‘Tensions’ (1998-2003) depends on addressing the causes and grievances of the conflict, and making headway on equitable development for urban and rural islanders. According to the Pacific Islands Forum, hardship and unemployment remain high in the country and ‘strong resource-led growth is failing to trickle down to the disadvantaged.”

“Landowner grievances, compromised governance and acrimonious competition for land and resources were key triggers of the violence that erupted in Guadalcanal Province in the late 1990s. So tackling land disputes, corruption and management of the country’s natural resource wealth is at the core of ensuring sustainable peace.”

“Natural resource management will be in the spotlight after the government in Honiara recently identified the exploitation of mineral resources – still relatively under-developed in Solomon Islands – as one avenue to boosting post-conflict economic recovery. At the same time, plans are underway to reopen the Gold Ridge mine by the end of 2018.”

“The mine, a drive of less than an hour from Honiara across the flat, sun-baked Guadalcanal Plains, through farming villages and miles of oil palm plantations, has stood dormant for the past three years. The extraction of gold began here in 1998, but a succession of foreign owners and intermittent periods of closure due to civil unrest and environmental problems has left a troubled legacy.”

“The reopening of the Gold Ridge mine is important for economic growth, said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification. A significant drop in national revenue followed the closure in 2014 and the start of two bauxite mines in West Rennell province the following year.”

“But the risks remain. Graham Baines pointed out in a paper published by the Australian National University that ‘should mining be forced while governance of the mineral sector remains weak and uncertain, corruption is rife and villagers are ill-informed and uncertain, the rural population could become a potent source of dissent and obstruction’. This was especially a danger in Melanesia, Baines said, where violence and mining seem to be partners.”

Your readers might have observed in recent days I switched in my letters to the local media to commenting on regional affairs just to put a brighter perspective on what I perceived to be a lack of confidence building issues concerning ‘home’ affairs.

My source of information for regional news as been the trusted news bulletins from Radio New Zealand and I would like to make three more selections here to demonstrate what objective reporting can do to heighten confidence to citizens in regard to developments, economic opportunities, welfare and personal well being.

The following stories are all from recent RNZI news bulletins and quoted.

Solar power for homes in Kiribati capital

“In Kiribati, households in South Tarawa will soon get solar lights to help improve energy efficiency.

“Kiribati has received $US1.1 million from India to have kerosene lamps replaced with solar lights.

“Homes in the urban district forced to use fossil fuel will be the first to benefit from this plan.

“The government of Kiribati has set renewable energy and energy efficiency targets of 45 per cent for Tarawa by 2025, with the aim to reduce people’s dependency on fossil fuel.”

ADB supporting Cooks in submarine cable project

The Asian Development Bank has provided a $US15 million dollar loan towards the Cook Islands submarine cable project.

The Cook Islands has joined Samoa, Niue, and French Polynesia to implement a regional cable system – Manatua – that provide faster and more affordable internet.

The total cost of the project, which is also supported by New Zealand, France and the EU, is estimated at $US65 million dollars.

The Banks Pacific director, Emma Veve, says ‘improved access to high-speed, affordable broadband internet in the Cook Islands will positively impact the tourism and public sectors as they are, by far, the biggest internet users”

The Cook Islands finance minister, Mark Brown says the Manatua cable will definitely result in opportunities through improved telecommunications connectivity.

Exxon discovers new oil and gas reserves in PNG

“The energy giant Exxon Mobil has discovered new natural gas and oil reserves in Papua New Guinea’s Western Province and has begun evaluating the find.

Exxon says it drilled almost 9000 feet into the earth at the P’nyang field, discovering “high-quality, hydrocarbon-bearing sandstone reservoirs.

The find adds to the American company’s “rapidly growing inventory of low cost natural gas” in PNG where it operates the Liquefied Natural Gas Project.

This includes reserves acquired in Exxon’s recent purchase of InterOil Corporation, as well as various other gas resources it has rights to around PNG’s Highlands and Southern regions.

The president of ExxonMobil Development Company Liam Mallon said the company and its co-venture partners were evaluating the well results and assessing how to develop the resource.

He said that Exxon would work with the PNG government to undertake the work.

“The media is not and should not be beholden to politicians; it has a duty to hold decision-makers to account. But it also has a duty to tell the good news story, and not over-emphasise the negative. Unfortunately, for many media outlets bad news sells more papers.
Seamus Conboy

 Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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