“When it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits”

In a message for May 3 International Press Freedom Day, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “When it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits.”

 

“Every day, freedom of expression faces new threats. Because they help ensure transparency and accountability in public affairs, journalists are frequent targets of violence,” said Secretary-General Ban, emphasizing that press freedom “does not happen automatically,” but requires the creation of a safe environment for dialogue, where they can execute their jobs without fear of reprisal.

 

It is hard for those of us who are protected by the U.S. Constitution to understand the hardships our Pacific neighbors meet when they advocate and work toward a free press; let alone for us to fathom that more than 600 journalists have been killed in the past decade, many while reporting in non-conflict situations while nine out of 10 cases of killings of journalists go unpunished.

 

In Fiji the press has been mostly silenced with the government forcing the owners of the Fiji Times to sell and the new owners and publishers (who are Fiji citizens) intimidated, sometimes jailed and silenced.  Most reporting now about Fiji comes from Internet news services based outside of Fiji.

 

And in neighboring Samoa, International Press Freedom Day was ‘celebrated’ with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi writing last month to the police to advise them on how to deal with the press.

 

In a letter to the Commissioner of Police, Lilomaiava Fou Taioalo, Tuilaepa advised him to write press releases and hand them over to the press when they are asked for comments, instead of agreeing to be interviewed. He warns the Commissioner about certain “strategies” that journalists could use to attack” the Ministry.  “A written press release is how you can control comments being printed in newspapers,” Tuilaepa told Lilomaiava.

 

We get our share of threats — both from lawsuits and fists. And we’ve listened to our share of government officials refusing to speak or trying to mislead us.  But we’re lucky; we can still print letters to the editor and write editorials and opinion pieces that would have most newspapers in the region closed down.

 

We are fortunate that it is ‘safe to speak’ here in American Samoa and we at Samoa News hope your ‘world benefits’ from it.

 

(It would be nice, though to have a Territorial Freedom of Information Act.)

 

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