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Samoa media speaks out on World Press Freedom Day

The celebration of World Press Freedom Day on Friday gave members of the Journalists Association of Samoa (JAWS) a golden opportunity to speak out against the Prime Minister’s advice, which has been heeded by the Police Commissioner to provide press statements as a way of disseminating information to the media, rather than conducting press conferences and interviews.


But not before guest speaker, Hon. Tuisugaletaua Sofara Aveau, the minister of Communications and Information Technology, reminded the gathering that media freedom in Samoa is not absolute.


The minister said the media must take great caution to ensure stories are fair, accurate and balanced.


He reassured the association of government’s support for press freedom in Samoa and pointed out that the men and women of the media have an important role to play in the development of the country. He concluded by praising the work they have done, which he said has contributed to positive developments in the community.


The occasion which had the theme “Safe to Speak” was sponsored by UNESCO through the efforts Officer in Charge and Program Specialist for Social and Human Sciences in Samoa, Dr. Susan Vize, who highlighted the need for the protection of journalists in their line of work.


The first mention of the government action which has been strongly criticized by the media came when senior members of the association were asked to share their thoughts on World Press Freedom Day with regard to the theme.


Veteran journalist Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia who has worked in all three forms of the media for the past 20 years and currently provides daily news bulletins for KSBS-FM 92.1 vented his frustrations on the current procedure adopted by the police due to the Prime Minister’s advice.


“We all know what press releases are,” Autagavaia said. “They are summaries of what happened and the information offered is very general.”


He asked JAWS president Uale Papalii Taimalelagi who heads the government Press Secretariat to “whisper” in the Prime Minister’s ear to put a stop to this ridiculous practice.


Another veteran journalist, who now owns his own media company in radio, TV, print and online, after almost 40 years in the business, Apulu Lance Polu did not mince words as he blasted this government action.


“Last year, we celebrated 50 years as an independent nation with a thriving democracy and yet we have slid back in time when this week police, heeding the advice of the Prime Minister, decided to have no more face to face media interviews and press conferences, accepting only written questions, which they would then respond to in press releases,” Apulu began.


He emphasized that this practice was ridiculous, inconvenient and unreliable.


For example, he recalled that he had instructed his Associate Editor Alan Ah Mu to email the Police Commissioner and request a written response on this new practice and to ask him if anyone had been charged over reports of a container where amphetamine or ice was allegedly discovered two weeks ago.


“Alan did,” said Apulu. “He filed a couple of new questions via email yesterday. Three days later, there was no response. We just had some response this morning, which was an old press release about the couple charged in connection with unspecified drugs last week. Mind you, I first learned about this container with drugs from Radio NZ yesterday, quoting the same police press release.”


He did not mention any names but everyone knows that the Government Press Secretariat is headed by JAWS president Uale Papalii Taimalelagi and the Savali Editor is Tupuola Terry Tavita, a former reporter for the Samoa Observer, who does not see eye to eye with Editor-in-Chief Savea Sano Malifa and until recently was still involved in a war of words with Savea.


Apulu then went on to say that he had heard that this move by the Prime Minister had actually been recommended to him by his Press Secretariat and those of the Government Savali newspaper.


Apulu even went as far as saying that the letter that was sent to the police and signed by the Prime Minister was actually written by them.


He then pointed out that Prime Minister was awarded the Media Freedom Award by JAWS for his role and contribution to transparency and accountability and opening up information for a better Samoan society.


“And the Government has been critical of the Fiji military government’s approach to gagging information…. well, they now seem to be heading the same way,” he said.


Apulu said that it was the Government’s Press Secretariat and Savali’s duty to do something to revert this. “Even boldly admitting to your mistake and face the consequences,” he said.