BY IRWIN ANGIKI
Vanuatu’s media association has thrown its weight behind its Solomons counterpart’s decision to boycott the joint press conference with China’s foreign affairs minister.
Dubbed as the ‘One-question conference’, yesterday’s media event did not sit well with Solomons Media Association (MASI) after a government invite indicated that the local media was allowed only one question – and that would be to Solomons’ foreign minister.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, was to be asked only one question; but that privilege was given to China’s media.
Furthermore, selected few mainstream media agencies were allowed only one representative each. A good number of journalists, especially those taking news for international outlets were shut out.
MASI has decried this farcical arrangement, actioning it with a boycott of the joint press conference.
In a show of solidarity, Vanuatu’s media association (MAV) president Mr Stevenson Liu emailed MASI president Ms Georgina Kekea yesterday supporting the boycott decision, and calling on Pacific governments to “allow press freedoms at all times”.
“The Media Association of Vanuatu, MAV declares its solidarity with the MASI regarding the decision by MASI to boycott the coverage of the Chinese delegation to the Solomon Islands.
“People are expecting us, the Media to be their eyes and ears and to ask questions on their behalf.
“Not allowing the Media to freely demand answers from Government and the Chinese delegate is a slap to the principles of Freedom of Information and democracy.
“Therefore MAV is supporting the stand taken by MASI and demands pacific governments to allow press freedom at all times.
“This is the freedom to inform ordinary citizens and upholds democracy.
“MAV hopes the people of Solomon Islands acknowledges the stand taken by MASI and understand and support their journalists in their quest to fight for the right to know.”
In a press statement on Wednesday, President Kekea explained MASI’s disappointment.
“Solomon Islands is a democratic country and when media freedom is dictated on someone else’s terms, it then impedes on our democratic principles.
“The Chinese delegation’s visit is an important and historical one for our country and our members plays an important role in making sure it provides the right information and awareness on the importance of the visit to our people.
“Journalists should be given the opportunity to ask questions on behalf of the people.
“According to the programme, the press will be given the opportunity to ask only two questions. One from a Solomon Islands journalist directed to the Solomon Islands Foreign Affairs Minister, and one from Chinese media, directed to their Foreign Affairs Minister.
“How ridiculous is that? If we want to interview our Foreign Affairs Minister, we can just do it without the event. What is the whole purpose of hosting such an event for the Press when they are only allowed one question and directed to their Foreign Minister only?”
Ms Kekea said even the discriminatory manner in which journalists are selected to cover the event does not bode well with the Association.
“MASI thrives on professional journalism and sees no reason for journalists to be discriminated against based on who they represent. Giving credentials to selected journalists is a sign of favouritism. Journalists should be allowed to do their job without fear or favour.”
She said the reason given that the arrangements were done that way because of COVID protocols ‘is an excuse’.
“We have community transmission, people are crowded in buses, shops, markets, banks and so forth so this is a very lame excuse,” she said.
She said Press Freedom is enshrined as a fundamental element in our country’s constitution.
“Same as the Prime Minister has defended democracy in parliament after the November riots, MASI is also defending democracy in this space.”