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Gov’t takeover of SIBC questioned


CABINET decision to omit Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) as a State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) has raised more questions than answers.

The Government claimed SIBC has not been making any profits as required under the SOE Act 2007.

As such, the Government will now fully finance SIBC operation to broadcast information and education services to the communities around the country that have access to its AM frequency 1035 kHz and Wantok FM 96.3.

SIBC also operates Radio Happy Lagoon in Gizo, Western Province.

However, its Radio Temotu in Lata in the Temotu Province is currently not broadcasting.

Former Chairman of SIBC Board from 2018-2019, Robert Iroga said it is quite interesting to see Government taking this decision because SIBC has been making profits.

Iroga said under his leadership, SIBC had made $2 million profit.

“Maybe Government is blaming the situation on Covid-19?

“However, I am not aware if SIBC is in its bad state,” he said.

Iroga blamed the Government for not living up to its commitment on providing its subvention quickly to allow SIBC to meet is Community Service Obligation (CSO).

He said sometimes SIBC got its subvention very late.

Furthermore, Iroga said SIBC is also facing competition from other media organisations to get advertisements from Government because it is not a monopoly like Solomon Airlines and others.

He hopes the Government has a good intention to omit SIBC as an SOE otherwise it can be seen as a way of controlling the media.

Acting Chairman of the SIBC Board, Dr William Parairato said they will meet soon to discuss the government decision.

However, Parairato said SIBC has been performing well regardless of the challenges faced by any other organisation during the Covid 19 pandemic.

He said SIBC Board has a mitigation strategy in place to address the challenges.

Further to that, he said Government also supported SIBC on its CSO to allow SIBC to reach out to certain areas that are unviable to access the information and news.

Former Press Secretary to Prime Minister, Douglas Marau, said during his time at Office of Prime Minister the SIBC General Manager was summoned twice by PMO.

He said the reason being that SIBC has not given much publicity to the government of the day as expected.

“Sadly, I do not blame SIBC.

“Whilst I understand that the PM is the minister responsible for SIBC, the move to omit SIBC has only confirmed plans by PMO to take control of the national broadcaster,” he said.

Marau, now the press secretary of the Leader of Opposition, said taking control of the national broadcaster for political propaganda and launching a new government newspaper was the plan.

“In fact, I was tasked to head the proposed government newspaper.

“I submitted and presented the proposed newspaper to the PM before I left,” he said.

“The idea of having a government newspaper, radio or TV is in fact a good idea that myself and Director GCU George Herming personally involved in since PM Hou’s term.

“But the intention is not to punish the media industry and to put them on the back foot.

“However, it is likely a government newspaper would see a major cutback in government adverts in our daily newspapers,” Marau said.

“Our newspapers survive on adverts and not street sales and the government provides 70% revenue through adverts to our papers.

“Hope this will not be the case,” he stated.

President of Media Association of Solomon Islands, Georgina Kekea said MASI is concerned on the decision taken by the Government that can be seen as controlling freedom of press.

She said as the Government of the day, it should provide conducive environment for businesses to prosper and not to compete like running a radio, newspaper or TV.

However, Special Secretary to the Prime Minister, Albert Kabui explained that SIBC remains the national broadcaster as provided for under the Broadcasting Act.

In this case, Kabui explained that SIBC has not been viable and has always been seeking government for financial assistance.

By omitting SIBC from the SOE Act, the national broadcaster will now be fully funded by the government with the expectation of it to focus on providing public service to the country rather than profit making.

It is likely SIBC will also cut down its staff in the sales and marketing because the Government will pay their salaries and all staff in the departments.

Currently, the SOEs remaining are:

  1. Commodity Export Marketing Authority (CEMA)
  2. Investment Corporation Solomon Islands (ICSI)
  3. Solomon Airlines.
  4. Solomon Islands Ports Authority (SIPA)
  5. Solomon Islands Postal Corporation (SIPC)
  6. Solomon Islands Water Authority (SIWA)

SIBC was established by an Act of Parliament – The Broadcasting Ordinance 1976.