21 Oct 2013

NGO in Solomons works to improve media knowledge of mining

5:55 pm on 21 October 2013

Workshops are being conducted in Solomon Islands to ensure that the media is on the ball as the country's minerals sector becomes a more significant part of the economy.

Mining is expected to play an increasingly important role in the Solomon Islands economy as the country's logging resource nears depletion.

Journalist Dorothy Wickham through the NGO Solomon Islands Women Empowering Local Women has been running the workshops.

She says it is important that journalists understand what is going on so they can get the information through to the public, particularly in rural areas.

DOROTHY WICKHAM: There's such a lack of understanding of mining out in the rural area, which can cause disputes amongst land-owning groups if there's no clear understanding of how long it takes, how much it costs, what are the technical details, what are the environmental impacts, and just the social impact of a mine wherever anybody is.

DON WISEMAN: Your group looked at these issues and thought the first place you need to go is the media, and ensure the media fully understand the various ramifications of mining.

DOROTHY WICKHAM: That's right. As a journalist myself, I feel very strongly about if the media doesn't understand something and they're writing about it, then the information that is being fed into the community is not accurate. If it's not balanced and the information is not enough for Solomon Islanders to make the right decisions then it's not a good situation we would have. We already have that with logging. A lot of the media here really don't understand the procedures of acquiring a licence for logging - what are the policies, what are the laws? And, hence, the mess that we have in terms of the way people dispute logging licences and the issues that come about with logging. What are you supposed to gain out of your resource? I think that is the key. And my push, as a local journalist, is to ensure that my industry understands the nitty-gritty, to be able to question procedures, government officials, mining companies as to how do our people gain from this. If you're going to mine our land then we want at least 80% benefit to our people. But they must gain from whatever they're agreeing to and they must be agreeing to something that they understand.

DON WISEMAN: I guess the biggest thing of all is whether or not the politicians, the companies involved, and I suppose, the landowners are all being candid with the journalists. And given, as you say, it's a small country and the often paternalistic attitudes that exist, it can be very difficult for the journalists to extract the real information.

DOROTHY WICKHAM: That's right, and that's why it was important that we invited people like [Special Secretary to the Prime Minister] Dr Philip Tagini. Dr Tagini came and spoke on government policy on logging and what government is addressing and he acknowledged that there were a lot of loopholes in our mining act that need to be revealed now and updated to reflect what is happening on the international stage in terms of mining. We are a few hours away from Bougainville and very close to mainland PNG, who have a big mining industry. And yet Solomon Islanders don't really know that industry. And it's important that the media gets to know it first. Like you said, if the companies and government are not going to be honest about what they're doing, then at least if the media understands the mechanics and we know what questions to ask and what to look for and to protect Solomon Islanders rights and resources. That's the key of the workshop, our NGO - Solomon Island Women Empowering Local Women. Because with any industry, the victims in the end are always the women and children, if it's not done right. It's the women who are left trying to keep the family together if social issues impact families, communities. If the economics are not right, revenue is not filtering down to the families, then the women and children get affected first.