Throughout the year, a volatile political situation and a destitute economy made survival the media’s primary goal. Although a peace agreement ended the country’s 2-year-old civil war in October 2000, tension pervaded the country, with two ethnic militia groups–the Isatabu Freedom Movement and the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF)–remaining heavily armed.
Militants angered by coverage of the conflict frequently target journalists for attack. At least two reporters fled the country in 2001 to escape intimidation, while other journalists routinely censored themselves for fear of retribution.
Meanwhile, the economic devastation resulting from the civil war had a predictable impact on the country’s press. The islands boast three weekly papers, two monthly publications, and a few radio broadcasters. The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), the country’s main radio broadcaster, operates primarily on a Parliament-approved budget but did not receive any of its government funding in 2001.
In mid-December, parliamentary elections were held for the first time since the MEF’s failed coup attempt in June 2000. International election monitors helped stabilize what was widely expected to be a violent period, and the media was able to report on the campaign and the poll with relative freedom.
In a step forward for local journalists, SIBC launched the country’s first media Web site in time for the election. The site, www.sibconline.com.sb, posted daily news updates and analyses of the campaign. While Internet access is limited on the islands with only a handful of Internet cafés available, the site was widely read overseas.
Sir Allen Kemakeza, who had been fired as deputy prime minister in August amid accusations of financial malfeasance, was chosen prime minister. But because no party won a majority at the polls, Kemakeza was elected without a popular mandate. It remained uncertain at year’s end whether his administration would improve conditions for the country’s journalists.
Nevertheless, during 2001, local journalists reported that rural residents and other disfranchised groups increasingly rely on the media to publicize their complaints. Even some members of militia groups are learning that the media can act as a forum for their views.