Solomon Islands Journalists Get a Crash Course in Covering Extractive Industries, Conservation

A field trip to the Solomon Islands’ only nature park on March 26th was the highlight of a three-day reporting workshop on extractive industries and species protection that Internews’ Earth Journalism Network supported in partnership with the Media Association of the Solomon Islands.

The 7,000-hectare Barana Community Nature and Heritage Park, or BCNHP, sits in the hills high above the capital Honiara, and is home to the major watershed supplying its tens of thousands of residents with water.

Until the park was established in 2017, thanks to funding from the Secretariat of the Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Solomon Islands Environment Ministry (MECDM), the Baran community used to mill timber here.

The visit gave the participants a chance to see how endemic species can be protected from extractive industries, such as logging. It also provided them with an opportunity to learn about bird watching, explore a tree planting initiative, and see firsthand the importance of ecotourism and conservation, as was relayed by speakers in the initial two days of the training.

During those discussions, Permanent Secretary of MECDM, Dr. Melchior Mataki, and Deputy Director of Conservation, Josef Hurutarau, acknowledged the dilemmas they face in striking a balance between the need for conservation and the push to extract resources for economic benefit.

Dr. Mataki said the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the Solomon Islands’ prevailing political economy, in which environmental issues are seldom among the most urgent or important priorities.

“Going forward, we must pick [up] on what has been illuminated by Covid-19,” he said. “Covid-19 is an opportunity to re-think, reset and redirect our country.”

He proposed safeguards, internal resilience, and various other measures to withstand future shocks to the environment, economy, and health and well-being of local communities.

Dr. Chris Vehe, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, noted that by monitoring both public and private sector accountability, journalists play a critical role in natural resource governance.

While efforts to train journalists around extractive industry reporting have had some impact on the quality and quantity of such coverage, it does not always “trickle up” to media outlets more broadly, he said, noting that the impact of investigative journalism on extractive industry governance was particularly thin.  

Despite the challenges posed, Dr. Vehe said the media is having an impact through increased efforts to make sense of the ever-growing volume of data being produced on extractive industries, as well as through mutual “amplification” of social media and traditional media sources.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government strongly supports the mining industry as a way of salvaging the country’s economy from the impact of the pandemic. It has recently prioritized work at two nickel mining sites and the existing gold mine at Gold Ridge, just a few kilometers east of Honiara.

That ridge served as the backdrop to the group photo the student journalists, trainers and facilitators took during their field trip, illustrating the beginning of a journey for a new crop of environmental journalists, and also the challenges they’ll face covering an economy and society in transition.

(Banner photo: Participants at the eastern boundary of Barana Park)