In 2022, The Solomon Star accepted funds from the Chinese government in return for favorable coverage. Credit Twitter

A global anti-corruption investigation has claimed that a Solomon Islands newspaper accepted funding from Chinese authorities, allegedly in exchange for the publication of content favourable to China. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses grave concerns at foreign interference in Pacific media outlets’ editorial independence and calls for stronger efforts to protect and sustain media integrity in the Solomon Islands media industry.

In a leaked funding proposal from July 2022, an investigation from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) alleged that the management of Solomon Star newspaper requested SBD 1,150,000 (approximately USD 140,000) from the Chinese government to allow the outlet to better “promote the truth about China’s generosity and its true intentions to help develop” the Solomon Islands. It was reported that the funds were to be spent on new equipment, including a replacement of their newspaper printer, and a new radio broadcast tower, with equipment delivered in February 2023.

In an editorial published this week, the newspaper denied the funding had affected its editorial independence and claimed it had nothing to hide. While some current and former outlet staff confirmed the veracity of the funding proposal to China, they also defended the newspaper’s editorial coverage and independence. But a leaked email obtained in the investigation documents criticism from the newspaper’s management following coverage of a visit by Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, to China in July 2023. The email is alleged to say the newspaper’s reporting on the trip’s cost had damaged the outlet’s relationship with the Chinese Embassy and reflected ‘anti-China sentiments.

This week, Solomon Star reported it had previously attempted to garner funding from other sources, including the Australian and United States Embassies, to no avail.

The Solomon Islands and China have pursued closer relations over the past two years, seen most prominently through the signing of a security cooperation agreement in April 2022. Since then, the IFJ has documented efforts by the prime minister to censor critical coverage at the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, obstruct media from attending government press conferences, and threaten bans on foreign journalists for publishing ‘disrespectful’ coverage of the country’s relationship with China.

In a major study exploring China’s global media strategy, the IFJ documented how China’s investment and infrastructure projects are often accompanied by an increase in coverage, sources, and misinformation directed from the mainland. The IFJ has published three reports on China’s overseas media influence, all of which are accessible through the IFJ’s China Hub.

The IFJ said: “Media sustainability is at a precipice with too many media outlets struggling for survival, particularly in the Pacific, but this should not come at the cost of editorial independence. No country is served by journalism that bends to favourable coverage of a powerful foreign influence and protections are needed to prevent political interference in journalists’ vital work.”


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