Symptoms of autocracy are in our region; Hon Wale tells Pacific Media Summit
SYMPTOMS of autocracy are in our region.
Opposition Leader Honorable Matthew Wale highlighted during his remarks at the closing of the Pacific Media Summit in Honiara recently.
Hon Wale said freedom of expression and the media are usually the first point of attack when democracy is under attack.
“When leaders in government seek to intimidate the media and stifle freedom of expression, we must be very concerned,” he said.
He said in the Pacific Islands, as elsewhere, democracy cannot be taken for granted.
Hon Wale said trust in governments and leadership is the lowest it has been in a long time.
“It is important that the grassroots in our island countries take ownership of our democracies and demand more from governments and leaders to ensure more rather than less democracy in the governance of our countries. Elections and the role of parliaments become too important when democracy is being challenged,” he said.
The Opposition Leader said recent Samoa elections and the difficulties they faced in the smooth and timely transfer of power betrayed the risk posed to democracy by just a few leaders.
Hon Wale further said the dissolution of the Vanuatu Parliament to insulate the Prime Minister from a vote of no confidence, an important accountability mechanism, demonstrate a disdain for democratic process, if it is not to one’s liking.
He said the treatment of journalists in both those situations demonstrated a dislike for the sunshine.
“Freedom of expression in Fiji has been under duress for far too long, and there doesn’t seem to be any change in the offing. Moves to ban Facebook in the Solomons, and intimidate SIBC to self-censor, demonstrate the dislike for accountability,” he said.
Hon Wale added that the agreements, including the recently signed military pact signed and kept in secret, are more of the same.
“State capture by the logging and foreign interests is a significant threat to democracy in Solomon Islands. And I’m sure you can add more examples to this list,” he told participants at the media summit.
Hon Wale said even in Australia, a cosmopolitan and matured democracy, recent revelations that the former Prime Minister secretly swore himself to multiple ministries demonstrate that the tendency for power grabs is a basic human weakness that challenges institutional checks and balances.
He said it is why institutional checks and balances must be robust and deserve the media’s watchful eye.
“Of course in the US, the Jan 6th Committee inquiry is revealing the profound stress that is placed on democracy in that country. I repeat, democracy must not be taken for granted anywhere,” he said.
Of course, in our island countries, Hon Wale stated that the broader electorates might not be as informed to ensure they are meaningfully engaged in the public political discourse that is so vital to a vibrant democracy.
He said illiteracy and superstition merely exacerbate this problem.
The Opposition Leader also stated that fake news, disinformation, misinformation and influence operations represent significant risks to island democracies.
“Social media plays an oversized role in these. Social media untethered to ethical editorial policy represents a real threat to democracy,” he said.
With regards to the geopolitical struggle, Hon Wale said our region is urging all sides to listen, appreciate and include our perspectives when seeking to engage with the pacific.
“This will continue to be an uphill struggle, against the overwhelming pressure of geostrategic calculations. Climate change and decolonization are the two major issues facing our region. But the geopolitics is focused on defense and security. Whose defense, whose security?” he questioned.
The Opposition Leader said it is the role of media in our region to advance our interests over and against the powerful forces and narratives driven by the geopolitical competition.
“We must not acquiesce into narratives derived from the geopolitical forces at play. Ours’ must be the initiative and the primary responsibility for advocating for our priorities and issues,” he said.