Extract from my memoirs.
In the Solomon Islands the local media representatives with the odd exception, reported fairly and reasonably accurately on the so called "ethnic conflict."
One also has to bear in mind that they lived on the Islands – usually in the forefront of the ethnic tension in and around Honiara; had family, friends and relatives, who could easily be affected by what they wrote. They had no refuge in a quick plane hop to safety.
I wish that I knew more about how they handled local news in those days – maybe now that time has passed there will be some anecdotes that bring light from the shadows. I hope so – their personal stories would make some serious reading. After all they had much more to consider when writing about local events than the foreign correspondents.
Dorothy Wickham - I had occasion to meet with this outgoing lady back in 1997. I was new to the Solomons; she was beginning her career starting as a reporter for the SIBC and then managing and directing her own media business.
Recently, while trolling through the Internet, I came across an interview by Sean Dorney written in late 2010 which best describes Dorothy and her talents. From a one person news reporter, then starting what Sean, jokingly, called the $1 company and five staff; to four years later 50 people.
Dorothy is showing what a Solomon Islander - and a woman - can do.
Then came the ‘scoop’ that was leaked to the ‘Voice’ newspaper which the Editor considered too ‘juicy’ to turn down…regardless…
This was the closing out – or down - of Senior Superintendent Charles Hosking’s stay here in the Islands.
He was the British weapons expert and human rights trainer, who I had hired for his expertise and who, also, undertook the initial police investigation of the shooting incident that had taken place on Bungana Island.
Then he had witnessed, soon after Bungana, a horrific incident involving the savage beating and killing of an old man near SIPL and carrying a dying child back to Honiara: followed by the death of an early morning jogger who was hit by a car which failed to stop. An incident which I had ordered him to investigate.
That was it for Hosking. He had obviously reached the end of his tether. He quietly slipped off to Australia, from where he faxed me a long message saying unless I could assure him of his personal safety he would not be returning.
I was extremely disappointed by his action which amounted to desertion from duty, but I could only assume that he had been shaken by the death of the child and lost his nerve in the face of increasing brutality by militants.
Immediately after receiving Hosking's message, I wrote a covering memo and immediately sent both documents by fax to the Prime Minister’s office. By then it was outside office hours.
However, surprisingly very soon afterwards, I got a call from Carol Colville, the Editor of ‘The Voice’ newspaper in Honiara. Someone had sent her a copy of the confidential fax that had gone directly from my office to the Prime Minister’s office.
She said that she intended publishing it in full, the following morning.
Did we discuss it? Yes…and found that our thoughts were going down different paths. This was an unusual conversation with Colville, as up to then we had a friendly relationship.
However, she was not prepared to back down and insisted in making the information public knowledge the next day.
Finally, she was told, rather strongly, that she was in possession of a government, confidential, none authorized for publication, document and being asked not to publish the contents due to the harm it could do to the Solomons at that time.
What kind of signal would the release of Hosking's private message, fearing for his personal security, have given to the men he was responsible for leading?
Yes, the complete contents of Hosking’s fax were newsworthy, but they were also bad for police morale and potentially dangerous for the lives of individual officers and their family members.
The only alternative was to get a late evening Supreme Court injunction. This was done: the document served on her: she was blocked from publishing Hosking’s faxed letter.
As expected Colville was not happy. She reported I had used heavy handed tactics including “gagging” the press. So she made something of it for her publication.
So, too, did Michael Field in a similar follow-up article he wrote. Seemingly ever ready to turn the screws he not only alleged I had "gagged the press, criticised the Commonwealth Envoy, Rabuka, and blamed me for the failure of the Panatina Peace Agreement.
However, we were not done yet here – up turned a saga that can best be described as a series of disinformation pieces; one example being an article written by Charles Dausebea, the then MP for East Honiara, who claimed I had prevented the publication of Hosking’s message because it revealed the true nature of "my work in apartheid South Africa and that its contents would be damaging to my reputation."
Does this not sound familiar?
Naturally, these pieces excluded what harm publicizing the contents could do to the officers of the NRSF and the RRU, who daily faced more danger in carrying out their duties and in their lives than Hosking, or Colville, or Dausebea.
Incidentally, once retrieved, the copy Colville had been sent, showed it had been faxed to her from the Prime Minister’s office within minutes of my sending it there.
Does anyone want to talk about that breach of security and what it was hoped to achieve?
Continuing on with more local disinformation.
A more in depth false local story, was a letter published, in the Courier, supposedly written by Chief Martin Piri of Tobia Village in west Guadalcanal.
The Chief apparently wrote about alleged misuse of police powers in Aruligo on Christmas Day in 1998, saying; “Let me remind my friend that this is not Soweto or Johannesburg. Please treat all Solomon Islanders as humans and not as part humans like in the former apartheid South Africa.
Again, we see the racist tones and implications being directed against me. One should not be surprised, however, for Monarch's intelligence report predicted I would be subjected to such attacks to weaken my position as Commissioner and slacken my resolve in resisting criminality.
The article went on, “The militant group the GRA (Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army) created by the media and the police is a mockery of the Guadalcanal people. There may be little groups here and there showing their frustrations over certain issues but this does not warrant the term GRA.”
Once I read this report, I sent the head of the CID, Assistant Commissioner Henry Kuper, to interview Chief Piri to substantiate that he had written the article and also to clarify what the allegations were against the police having misused their powers.
Chief Piri told Kuper that he had no knowledge of the particular letter or of any happenings in Aruligo as he had not left his village for a considerable time.
Really… So where did the then Editor, Patterson Mae, get his story?
Incidentally Patterson was the leader of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) at the time: which has in its own training manual the written words, ‘Get it Right, Write it Tight.’
Patterson… had you forgotten?
To be continued ….
Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 40: Our Own - Solomon Islands - Media.
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