THE SOLOMON ISLANDS BROADCASTING CORPORATION (SIBC) MUST HAVE A SECURE FUNDING FRAMEWORK

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Dear Editor,

THE Solomon Islands National Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) is struggling to maintain its services to the communities settled on the 350 inhabited islands across the length and breadth of the nation.

The Solomon Islands being an island nation made up of over 992 tropical islands lies east of Papua New Guinea and the distance between the westernmost part and easternmost islands is about 1,500 kilometres.

The Santa Cruz islands are situated north of Vanuatu and are especially isolated at more than 200 kilometers from the other islands.

The total land area of the country is approximately 28,442 sq. Km and the total sea area is over 1,600.000 sq km.

Population estimates indicate a population in excess of 600,000

 It does not need much imagination to understand that the SIBC in its mission of public service has a vital role to play in providing information, contributing to national identity and sense of community, but also in giving attention to minorities across the vast outreaches of the country.

 Lying the Pacific Ocean, the SIBC is the first to give notice of Cyclones to enable communities to take precautions and such services are increasingly important now that the Solomon Islands is being impacted so seriously by the affects of climate change.

 It seems to me to be inconceivable that the SIBC should be short of government funding at a time when the national broadcaster is more important than ever in carrying out is primary mission of public service.

Looking into the history of national broadcasting in the Solomon Islands one learns that radio broadcasting was established by US military forces in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP) during World War Two.

“In 1944, the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) developed small, medium wave stations at Lunga on Guadalcanal and Munda, New Georgia. These were designed to provide information and entertainment to the hundreds of thousands of US service personnel then based in the BSIP. The stations were part of the Mosquito Network, a loose network of similar AFRS stations stretching through the South-West Pacific, from Bougainville in the north to Auckland in the south, and including outlets in Espiritu Santo and Noumea.

“As the Pacific war moved northwards, the AFRS stations closed and BSIP listeners returned to tuning to broadcast programmes from Australia or further afield for entertainment and information.

“In 1946, a rudimentary weekly half hour of news and service bulletins was established by the BSIP Administration. The service was transmitted from Honiara on regular inter-island radio frequencies using Government transmission equipment and soon developed a regular following.

“By 1952, the broadcasts were on a much stronger footing and the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service (SIBS), an arm of the Government, was established.”

“In 1976, new legislation converted the SIBS into the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), a totally independent public service broadcaster charged with providing national radio coverage and a full range of news, educational and entertainment services.”

Source: SIBC Website.

A recent article in the Solomon Star newspaper gave details of the current plight of the SIBC to stay on air and to fulfill it essential mandate. This is what the article related (quote).

“The national broadcaster, SIBC, is taking drastic and desperate measures to stay on air.

“This comes after Solomon Power’s recent disconnection of SIBC’s power supply due to a $65,000 outstanding bill.

“The national broadcaster, which has the furthest reach and relied on by the rural populace, currently runs on generators, which are expensive to maintain.

“Chief Executive Officer Ashley Wickham told the Sunday Star they are taking every possible measure available to keep the station on air.

“We’ve already shutdown the medium wave (MW) transmitter because of the situation,” Wickham said.

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“Only the Short Wave (SW) transmitter is still being maintained because it reaches the whole country,” he added.

“Our streamed overnight service listened to internationally had to be switched off at 11pm so the generators could rest.”

“Wickham said their poor financial situation came about as a result of the government’s critical cash flow problem.

“The government is SIBC’s main source of revenue.

“Wickham said they will review the situation in the New Year.

“But our outlook is not so clear.

“We have not been told when Parliament is likely to sit to look at the budget.

“If our finances don’t improve, we will reduce the transmission hours of the shortwave transmitter so that they are only heard in the early mornings and evenings to close down at 11pm.

“Then we start a process of lay-off of staff.”

The situation is also affecting SIBC’s proposed television service.

Wickham said earlier, due to the government’s cash flow problems, they cancelled a contract payment of $2.5 million which SIBC were to use to set up the early part of the TV service.

“We have submissions for capitalisation of the TV Project and for equipment upgrades for radio equipment, studios, administration, provincial studios, provincial FM stations etc.

“These total $23 million.

“Since the government changed we have not heard how the new administration views our SIBC prospects,” Wickham stated.

“He said SIBC had also complained to the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Finance that Solomon Power did not seem to know the essential services act and did not seem to know or care about the cash-flow situation everyone reliant on government is affected by.

“Solomon Power earlier insisted their action applies to every customer that has outstanding bills with them.”

 In a previous article I posted on Linkedin on 8 December 2017, I highlighted the Solomon Island’s trade deficit of S$170.5 million in the second quarters of 2017 and, undoubtedly, the shortage of essential government funding for the SIBC is a result of the SIG’s loss of earnings.

Here, again, is the article I posted.

“Precis of Solomon Islands Government Press Release – 8 December 2017 Solomon Islands has recorded a trade deficiency of $170.5 million in the second quarter (June) of 2017. This is according to the Solomon Islands National Statistics Office (SINSO) latest figures on the International Merchandise Trade Statistics (IMTS) released on Friday 1st December 2017. The data (IMTS) shows the movement of different types of goods between the Solomon Islands and a range of countries in Oceania, Asia, Europe, Africa, America and other regions. Releasing the statistical bulletin, Government Statistician Douglas Kimi said the deficit is a decrease of $228.0m (396%) over the surplus of $57.5m recorded in the preceding quarter. He said that in terms of the corresponding quarter a year ago, this represented a decline of $224.1m (418%) over the surplus of $53.6m in 2016.”

 I very much hope that the Solomon Islands Government will soon address the financial needs of the public service broadcaster and recognise that it is fundamental that the SIBC needs to have an appropriate, secure funding framework and see to it that government funding is an integral part of the nation’s public broadcasting service – a service that has consistently serves the country exceedingly well in times of war and in peace from its early beginnings in 1944 to the present day.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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