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PFF welcomes prompt police action over torching of journalist's car

(PFF/IFEX) - Rarotonga, Cook Islands - Solomon Islands police are treating the 24 March 2011 early morning torching of a private vehicle owned by senior journalist Dorothy Wickham as suspicious and are still ascertaining whether the vandals had personal or professional grievances with the ONE News Television manager.

Wickham had been up all night with relatives visiting her home on 23 March and had just gone to bed in the early hours of 24 March when she was alerted by loud crackling and smoke. Her security guard had also just gone to sleep from his night shift, as it was daybreak. They could only watch as the flames engulfed the vehicle, which was uninsured. Another vehicle owned by ONE News and items which could have been easily stolen were left untouched.

Wickham has spent some two decades in journalism and has provided extensive coverage to the regional and international community, breaking stories around the internal armed conflict of the late 1990s and the post-conflict recovery and governance issues.

She is the Radio New Zealand International correspondent for the Solomon Islands as well as general manager and a founding owner of the ONE News TV service, which is a leading news provider in the region. No threats had been received in the lead-up to the car-burning, and police have taken statements and are carrying out their investigation.

Regional media watchdog the Pacific Freedom Forum welcome the serious and prompt attention given by the police in this matter. "An act such as this, taking place in broad daylight, is an unusual and extreme way of signalling grievance against any person in this region and we welcome the serious attention which Solomon Islands Police are giving this incident," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea.

"In an environment where the professional and personal lives of those in the media can often be closely linked to the communities they cover, it's important that journalists are able to work without concerns for their safety and the safety of colleagues and loved ones," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller of American Samoa. "Importantly, the Solomon Islands Police are showing their colleagues in neighbouring Melanesian states that media workers are also human beings with the same constitutional rights to protection and state services available to all citizens."

Wickham was also the target of vehicle-tampering some 10 years ago, when the brake lines in her car were cut. She discovered this while she was driving along one of Honiara's many mountainous ridge roads.

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