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PFF condemns use of compensation threats over media content in Solomon Islands

(PFF/IFEX) - The use of so-called custom compensation claims in the Solomon Islands by anyone upset over media content has been condemned by the Pacific Freedom Forum, PFF.

PFF supports the decision by the Solomon Star this week to lay a police complaint over two incidents on January 4 and 5 at the daily newspaper's offices in Chinatown, Honiara. On both occasions, a group claiming to have been sent by first lady Bronwyn Lilo, demanded compensation linked to headline-coverage of allegations of the Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo having an extra-marital affair.

"Regardless of how strongly people feel about editorial values shaping the news and how it's reported, there should be zero tolerance for extortion of any kind. We call on individuals and groups responding to media content to take their concerns in writing to the management of the outlet concerned," says PFF co-chair Titi Gabi.

"Media associations, including the Media Association of the Solomon Islands (MASI), have governing codes of ethics which call on organisations and journalists to meet editorial standards. If anyone feels these standards have been breached, they should be able to peacefully make their concerns known and be confident that their concerns will be dealt with."

Days after the incidents, the Prime Minister in a press conference denounced what had happened, saying compensation claims of any kind against companies and individuals in the Solomon had to stop. The Solomon Star has already been served with a defamation action by the Prime Minister, who says he prefers the whole issue to be dealt with by the courts.

The issue of legal action should be a last and not a first resort in the complaints process, and the hope is that speedy resolution via a more direct mediation process via MASI will save face and money for both sides, says PFF.

From Papua New Guinea, Gabi says the dynamics of kastom and groups affronted by reporting the 'private' lives of public figures is a challenge for Melanesian newsrooms, but one that must be met with directness and strength.

"We fully support the stance taken by Katherine Lamani and our colleagues at the Solomon Star in making what happened a matter for Police investigation. We urge other newsrooms and journalists to quickly speak up when faced with threats related to their work."

"In a region where cultural practice forms a strong part of identity, it's critical that the media help to highlight events of opportunism, extortion, and abuse trying to pass themselves off as custom," says PFF co chair Monica Miller of American Samoa. "Many events like this are breaking the law, so it rests with journalists and their employers to educate the public on media complaints processes, and take threats to the Police."