APIA - The Roundtable Discussions hosted by the Journalists Association of Western Samoa (JAWS) on Friday drew some passionate responses from local journalists.
Held on the eve of World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), the event brought together local Editors, Journalists and Foreign Correspondents to discuss press freedom issues in Samoa.
Representatives from Newsline, Samoa Observer, Savali Newspaper, Star TV, Radio Polynesia, TV Samoa, Radio New Zealand International, TV3, Fetu FM, NUS Journalism and the Press Secretariat were present.
Held at Le Alaimoana Hotel the meeting brought forward issues faced by local journalists in the pursuit of truth in the news.
One of the main press freedom issues was protection for journalists covering court proceedings.
According to Tipi Autagavaia, Correspondent for RNZI, there needs to be special consideration given to those covering sensitive cases through the courts.
Melani Pini, a Journalist for Newsline Newspaper and one of the victims of harassment at the courts told the forum that at times he fears for his safety when reporting outside the courts.
“It’s fair enough for the reporters who are bigger but for us small ones, we are more vulnerable,” Pini said.
Editor of Savali Newspaper, Tupuola Terry Tavita suggested negotiations with law enforcers for special protection.
“JAWS should look into meeting with Justice and even the Police Commissioner to discuss options to ensure the safety of court reporters,” he said.
The President of JAWS, Papalii Ualetenese Taimalelagi said JAWS would look into the matter.
The second main issue discussed at the meeting was brought forward by Editor of Samoa Observer Mataafa Keni Ramese Lesa.
“In the past twelve months there have not been many press freedom issues faced by local Journalists, but to me, I feel that this is a good time for us to self examine and look inwards at our own capacity and capabilities in the industry.”
According to Mataafa the external challenges faced by Journalists are obvious, but it is the internal challenges that need to be addressed.
Ame Sene, Correspondent for TV Samoa in New Zealand agreed with Mataafa.
“Even your presentation, what you wear reflects on your respect for news coverage,” she said.
Misa Vicky Lepou, Lecturer at the National University of Samoa Journalism School said that a careful observation of Journalism ethics can reflect positively on local Journalists.
According to Sports Editor of Radio Polynesia Sioeli Alofaifo, Journalists need be more well versed in their area of interest.
“At press conferences with well known sports people, the quality of questions asked by local Journalists are poor, we all need to make an attempt to be more well versed before going into press conferences,” Alofaifo said.
Apart from issues directly affecting the local media, a passionate debate took place about the recent TVNZ report by Barbara Dreaver.
The topic brought out varied opinions from the Journalists whom in the end decided that it was Journalism ethics that JAWS needed to focus on, and not on the debate of whether or not Samoa looked good in the report or not.
Outside of direct threats to Journalists, the meeting looked at constraints imposed by Government Ministries and bodies in the pursuit of two sides to the stories.
According to Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson, General Secretary of JAWS, the Ministries need to be reminded that public documents are indeed for the access of not just the public but Journalists as well.
“The strange thing about this is, they are public documents, yet Journalists are denied access to these documents even though we are obtaining them for the benefit of the public,” Lagipoiva said.
Members agreed that there needs to be more transparent processes in Government in regards to the distribution and accessibility of so-called public documents.
In the end the roundtable discussions agreed that there needs to be better awareness of the role of the media in society.
“Advocacy is important so that our people understand why Journalists do their jobs,” Misa Vicky Lepou said.
Tipi Autagavaia recommended an awareness campaign on the vital role that the media plays in any democratic society.
According to the Journalists a better understanding of Journalists role will avoid any misunderstandings not just at the courts but in other situations that Journalists find themselves in.
Currently there are no specific laws to protect Journalists on duty, only laws which can convict journalists in the line of duty.
There is also no Freedom of Information Act in Samoa, however Samoas press freedom issues pale in comparison to Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
JAWS will be hosting the official World Press Freedom Day for the Pacific on the 8th of May along with media colleagues from around the region.
JAWS continues to uphold media ethics and promote the role of the media in Samoa, JAWS as the only media association continues to take a strong on issues relating to freedom of the media.