By Mataafa Keni Lesa
Samoa Observer - Views from media owners and industry leaders differ over the establishment of a media council. The issue has resurfaced after a challenge from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi to establish one to monitor standards of reporting in Samoa. The challenge is the result of what the Prime Minister called irresponsible reporting regarding the distribution of aid to tsunami victims.
The Prime Minister said claims of air rort should be investigated before they are publicised.“Why haven’t you been able to set up a body where you can investigate yourselves?” Tuilaepa asked.“I’m talking about journalists who carry stories without investigating them first. In New Zealand and Australia, they have councils, who punish writers like that.“But we cannot have a council in Samoa when the old heads running newspapers lead by example in bringing crooked stories.”Samoa Observer’s Editor-in-Chief and World Press Freedom Hero, Savea Sano Malifa said he was unsure what “crooked stories” the Prime Minister was talking about.“It seems that the Prime Minister also wants to control the private media,” he said. Savea said the Journalists Association of (Western) Samoa (JAWS) “should desist any attempt by anyone including the Prime Minister to set up a media council. “Such an eventuality would be an affront to the freedom of expression, democracy and intelligence of the people of this country.“We already have enough laws to protect members of the public against abuses by the media. An attempt therefore by the Prime Minister to set up a council to censor newspaper reports is totally unnecessary and uncalled for.”Another veteran journalist, Apulu Faumuina Lance Polu said the need for a Media Council was realised by JAWS “long before this.” The former President of Pacific Islands News Association and JAWS reminded about “Ian Beales Report through the Commonwealth Foundation. “JAWS, under my time as President and ensuing leaderships saw the need for this many years ago, in order for the media to self regulate rather than being influenced or dictated to by outside forces - politicians included.“What’s needed is a body similar to the NZ Broadcasting Standards Authority that is supposed to have investigated the Barbara Dreaver’s report, again on complaints of our politicians on her Gangs and Drugs in Samoa report.”Apulu, however, said it’s not simple because: • Funding and the cost for a panel of (at least three) independent members to review and decide on every complaint on the media. The Councils brief maybe general not only to cover what maybe perceived as 'inaccurate' reporting but general media/ethical standards such as advertising content, language use, programme content (Radio & TV), etc............• Legal basis of such a Council so that its decisions should be binding and respected not only by the media outlets but the general public.• Independence of the council is vital which means looking at the caliber of members here in Samoa. As their integrity should command public confidence in the media and transcends issues such as media and information freedom and access.“The bottom line is that such a Council must be useful to everyone and I think JAWS must continue the consultation process in order to refine it to a cost effective and useful entity rather than just another body,” he said.Apulu said the Prime Minister cannot tell the media what and how to do it’s job.“But I've scanned some of the comments made by some Samoans who were here, visited the disaster area and returned overseas and made comments whi
ch seem to me are based on a lot of speculations and are in the vein of "according to widely circulated reports..." I have also had such reports and we are investigating.
Tupuola Terry Tavita, Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson“But as we all know, the seriousness of such reports if they could not be substantiated, affect the very victims who are in dire need of the aid. They also affect our credibility when it seems unfair because it is always easy to throw a wild comment in the comfort of distance.“Some of these reports (Upper Hutt and Christchurch) have also generally labelled us [who have consciously chosen not to migrate to NZ but decided to stay and contribute to building this country over the years], as corrupt.“So personally, we also owe it to ourselves to expose if there is something to expose and to also substantiate these reports so that the perpetrators be dealt with by the law, not only for the tsunami victims, but for our country's name and for ourselves as well.”Managing Director of SQB TV One and award-winning producer, Galumalemana Faiesea Lei Sam-Matafeo said it was important for the media to be responsible.“The Prime Minister is saying the stories lack factual basis, if I’m hearing him correctly,” she said. “He’s asking for more responsible and factual reporting. I mean we should also be responsible. But if the stories are factual, the freedom of information must be protected.”Of the Prime Minister’s call to stop coverage of Tautua Samoa issues, Galumalemana said: “If there are significant issues that need to be raised with Tautua, their conferences will be covered. That’s what we’re here for. But if a party keeps flogging a dead horse, then we will not waste our resources.”Editor of Environment Weekly and Secretary of JAWS, Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson said the Prime Minister has no right to tell the media what to report on.“The same way we don't tell him what laws he should and should not pass,” she said. “As journalists we too have to be responsible in our reporting, and when dealing with all topics, it is best to ensure accuracy in everything we write.” Lagipoiva said a Media Council will encourage more accountability in the media.“A media council can preserve the integrity of journalism ethics and ensure that journalists are held accountable for their mistakes, because we do make mistakes,” she said.“A media council however should be neutral and fair, and that is the challenge especially if the council is made of the heads of the news organisations who may end up disciplining some of their own. It is therefore important to bring in a neutral person to take a major role in the council.”Editor of the state-owned Savali Newspaper, Tupuola Terry Tavita said claims about aid abuse, such as those made by Litea Ah Hoi, should not be taken at face value.“If you take the time to enquire at the Disaster Management Office, you'll find that every delivery, every consignment is checked by Treasury at headquarters,” Tupuola said.“Each delivery is accompanied by a policeman and an officer of the audit office. There are also checkpoints on site and people have to sign up for what they were getting and another team of auditors and treasury people does the follow up to ensure that every time, every good is received and accounted for.“Regardless of what the Prime Minister said (I don't speak for him) do you not think we, media people, are doing a great disservice to the hundreds of good and honest people out there not only in the affected areas but manning the DMO, wharves and storage yards, working night and day, for a month now by publishing the unproven comments of people like Ah Hoi?”