OP-ED: The details behind the snubbing and the irony of our big brothers
Apia, SAMOA — With a history spanning close to 41 years, we at the Samoa Observer have an obligation to the citizens of this nation to pursue and tell the truth.
It could mean pushing the envelope at times, often to the displeasure of the powers that be, but we owe it to our readers to navigate and overcome these challenges in our strive for accuracy, brevity and clarity in our content.
It is why when our reporter Sapeer Mayron was assigned to cover the brief visit of transiting New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last Saturday, she knew that her immediate task at hand was to secure a quick interview with the visiting PM at every opportunity, despite explicit instructions from the Government's Press Secretariat to the local media in Samoa that “there will be no opportunities to interview Prime Minister Ardern”.
The New Zealand High Commission in Apia also released similar instructions last Friday morning, ahead of the Prime Minister’s arrival Saturday mid-morning, saying there will not be any interviews with the local media due to her tight schedule.
On Saturday morning Ms Ardern did a standup interview with the accompany New Zealand media TVNZ and Newshub, in the downstairs entrance of the New Zealand High Commission premises before leaving [for] the Manumea campaign launch on Beach Road.
But Ms Mayron did not throw in the towel, despite being witness to the clear preferential treatment for New Zealand media over local Samoan media, and approached the Prime Minister on Saturday evening during the reception to ask for an interview. Credit to Ms Ardern, she agreed, but said she has to check with her Press Secretary. Her Press Secretary then asked Ms Mayron to wait until after the PM did an interview with a visiting New Zealand TV crew. After the interview with the TV crew, the Press Secretary approached Ms Mayron and said Ms Ardern will not do any interviews with her or any member of the local media, and added that the decision was made before the PM flew to Samoa.
We note the criticism of our story and of Ms Mayron by our esteemed friends at the Samoa Media Association (JAWS), and their concerns that an “ambush interview approach is not the Samoan way”.
There was no ambush – there was consultation from the first day. In fact Ms Ardern did agree to an interview with our reporter, only for that opportunity to be taken away by an overzealous Press Secretary.
As I said in the beginning, we set the bar high here at the Samoa Observer, and we expect our reporters to perform to those standards for the benefit of our readers. And if you are not comfortable with our modus operandi, then perhaps it is best you step aside, and let our readers be the judge on our performance as a daily newspaper.
As for Ms Ardern, we hope she has not taken a leaf out of her Australian politician colleagues’ book, who are becoming notorious for flying into Pacific Island states under a veil of secrecy and shutting the door on local media. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne did that in June this year, when visiting Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby to meet the newly elected PNG PM James Marape and his new cabinet ministers.
Do you not see the irony in the role that Australia and New Zealand played in the foundation years of a lot of Pacific Island states including Samoa, where the functions of the media as the Fourth Estate was highlighted and promulgated to the newly independent indigenous governments as an important part of our democratic process?
Obviously a lot has changed since those foundation years — if we are to take the current challenges as an indication of poor government-media relations – especially when we continue to get reports of alleged media censorship promoted by staff, within the New Zealand Prime Minister’s own office.
And having been in the media sector for a while now, time has taught us to close one chapter and open a new one, when dawn breaks to signal a new day and with it new story angles and personalities to tackle.
Have a lovely Wednesday Samoa and God bless.