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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i


Editorial

Story Behind The Extortion Attempt Of This Newspaper

Solomon Star

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Jan. 4, 2013) – You may have heard of the thugs who shamelessly tried to extort thousands of dollars from the Solomon Star newspaper on Friday and yesterday.

These so-called strong men arrived at our office and immediately intimidated our news staff and threaten the newspaper’s management.

This was over the front page news article that appeared in the Solomon Star on Friday.

Most of you have read it. And you know what that piece was about.

Two different groups were involved.

The first knocked on our office door hours after the paper hit the streets on Friday morning.

They argued the news article, which was about Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo’s lawyer warning the media not to publish allegations of Mr Lilo’s extra-marital affairs, was disrespectful to them as "relatives of the woman involved".

They want "compensation" paid for that.

We told them it was straight forward news article based on the warning letter from the prime minister’s lawyer to the local media.

Other information in the article were public knowledge as the story had already gone viral on the social media network.

They did not think that way. "Disrespectful" was the line they were towing.

We were calm but they were furious. We know why. They want money.

No money was paid so they left but warned to return at lunch hour.

They returned and reinforced their claim. This time, they were more aggressive and intimidating.

Trying our best to solve the matter amicably, we did not call the police.

One of Solomon Star directors, Elizabeth Siota, who has blood relations with the men, decided to meet one of them, the woman’s brother.

After a short meeting, Elizabeth told the man that she will have to consult with other staff and the company’s lawyer first before she could make a decision.

The men left.

The Solomon Star position on the matter was that we have not done anything wrong so it would be unwise to pay as the men demanded.

We consulted our lawyer Andrew Nori and here’s his advice in a letter that was later communicated to the group:

"I have read the article and note the following:

There is no mention at all of anything to do with Fataleka (the men were from Fataleka);

The name of the woman allegedly involved (if true at all) was not mentioned;

The Solomon Star was merely reporting what has already been published in the social media, namely the Facebook Page administered by Forum Solomon Islands International (FSII); and

The focus of the front-page article was the contents of a letter sent to FSII and all media outlets by Hon Lilo’s lawyer.

"As a lawyer from Malaita and someone with some knowledge of Malaita custom, the claim for compensation as evidenced this morning was completely uncalled for.

"In custom compensation is only justified when ‘a wrong has been committed’.

"My client has not committed any wrong neither in custom nor in law."

Based on that advice, the Solomon Star as a newspaper decided not to pay "compensation".

However, Elizabeth can sense the animosity that now existed between her family (the Lamani family) and the brother of the woman.

They have blood ties – and because blood is thicker than water – she decided to remove the animosity and ill-feeling that now existed between the two families.

So she called the woman’s brother on his mobile and asked him to come to her office.

They had a chat and Elizabeth explained to him that based on legal advice, the Solomon Star will not pay any compensation.

But because Elizabeth wanted their family ties to remain intact, she handed him $2,000 that he can share with other relatives.

Second group

Later in the evening, the second group (they claimed to be sent by the prime minister’s wife) landed at our office.

They were also on an extortion mission.

Their argument: The Solomon Star had published news that were not true.

But they failed to point out which part of the news article that was not true.

They were talking about "$100,000 compensation".

We called the police.

Four officers responded.

But they failed to get the group, which had grown up to around 30 men and two women, out from our premises.

The officers called reinforcement. Two police vehicles arrived a short while later.

There was a verbal confrontation between the group and the officers.

The men insisted they were sent by the prime minister’s wife and that they cannot leave unless compensation is paid.

To prove his point, he made a call on his mobile phone with the speaker switched on in the presence of the police officers.

The voice, believed to be from Madam Lilo, that came through the mobile phone’s speaker said: "Solomon Star must pay compensation before oketa man ia leave".

Police told the men there was nothing wrong with the story and that the media has the right to public information about the conduct of national leaders.

They men refused to listen.

But they finally got dispersed when the police told them they either go home or would spend the night in custody.

They left but warned to return in the morning.

Saturday mid-morning. Some of them arrived at the Star.

Their demand is the same: The Star must pay compensation.

We called the police, who arrived a short while later.

After realising they were on a futile exercise, the men decided to leave.

No compensation paid, but they threatened to throw stones at Solomon Star company vehicles on the road.

Solomon Star
Copyright 2013 Solomon Star. All Rights Reserved


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