Sunday, January 31, 2010

Post Tsunami Samoa Editors’ Forum - PM Address

This week (Nov 2009) in Samoa, the Pacific Media Human Rights Project held a Post-Tsunami Samoa Editors’ Forum with Samoa’s leading journalists. Below is the speech delivered by Samoa’s Prime Minister Sailele Malielegaoi Tuilaepa on why he supports the set up of a Media Council for Samoa. We have also included here a post published by Journalists Association of (Western)Samoa (JAWS) on this issue. They debate their differences and disagreement on this issue.

Post Tsunami Samoa Editor’s Forum
Prime Minister’s Remarks
Tuilaepa Sailele Lupesoliai Malielegaoi
Tuesday, 17 November – Aggie Grey’s Conference Room
Thank you for inviting me to your Post Tsunami Samoa Editors Forum particularly in view of the vigorous media reaction to my comments on the quality of the media’s reporting of developments in the aftermath of the Tsunami.
In May this year at a function to Commemorate Media Freedom Day, which also included participants from around the region to a seminar organised jointly by UNESCO and the International Federation of Journalist, I had also made a special plea for the media to improve and maintain high reporting standards.
Let me say again that there is no question about the importance to our societies of a media that is able to report news in complete freedom, express opinions and make criticisms without fear of repression. The media’s power to influence public perceptions is a powerful force and is precisely the reason why the media must also accept and observe the great responsibility of ensuring balanced and fair reporting of news and stories.
This is the context of why I kept reminding our media over the weeks following the Tsunami of the importance of maintaining standards of reporting by ensuring that you do not rely on rumours and hearsay but to go and see personally whether a version provided to the reporter is credible, find out what is in fact the widely held view and then report accordingly.
In a sensitive and highly charged situation, such as in the aftermath of the Tsunami, it becomes even more important that the reporter feels assured that the media story is balanced and presents a full picture of what is going on. I do not need to remind on the key roles of the editor and publisher in this process.
I know that there must be heavy pressures of running a media outlet to meet timelines and in achieving the bottom line of making money to operate the business. I recall that not so long ago a well known reporter of New Zealand’s TV One (Barbara Dreaver) was criticised even by some of our media here of sloppy reporting. In that case where it was felt that media standards were violated, there is a Media Council and Tribunal for New Zealand where complaints could be lodged. Indeed that is where complaints have been referred to after that incident. There is nothing similar in Samoa and is why I keep asking leaders in Samoa’s media to do something to help enforce standards. I recall discussing this very concept of a Council with representatives of the media over 5 years ago. My impression then was that you were extremely anxious to go ahead with it as part of the reforms you wanted to do to improve media reporting. For these reasons, I have always supported requests of JAWS to have media workshops and media conferences in Samoa. I also always accept invitations to the JAWS organised events where I can make directly my views, as I am again now making, in the interests of encouraging good standards in media reporting.
One of the important reasons for my perennial reminders on good standards is that if media stories Post Tsunami are not properly collaborated or for some reason are deliberately biased, these can cause much harm to how we are perceived by people of other countries who by and large rely on media reports to form a picture of our country and people.
As I have said before and on countless previous occasions, constructive criticism from the media is indispensable for the development of society. The insidious danger to guard against is when journalists become careless, and worse become egotistical and self-righteous in believing that every opinion they present must be good and right for society because “they have said it”.
My final point which I have also made in remarks I made before in other JAWS events, and are also relevant in the post Tsunami period, is the importance in my view of the media making a more conscious effort to focus on positive stories rather than the often heavy diet of negative ones that the media tends to revert to in daily offerings. A bombardment of negativity can easily sap morale as the people begin to question whether anything good at all is happening in their community.
Finally, I want to let you know that we are doing our best, as we had done from the time of the immediate aftermath of the Tsunami, to help those affected. A great deal has been done and a lot more is being done and will be done in terms of recovery and reconstruction of the areas that were devastated. There is also a strategy to relocate people to higher ground for safety not just in preparation for another Tsunami, but as part of a more general adaptation programme in anticipation of climate change and sea level rise.
Since the Tsunami and in the period ahead, Samoa has worked closely with our international developmental partners and non-government organisations who also have members participating in meetings of the National Disaster Council and Advisory Committee. The participation in the Council and Committee of representative of foreign governments and International organisations including NGOs like the Red Cross provide an effective mechanism for checks and balance against any abuses in the distribution and use of assistance received. As it happened, a negative media report based on hearsay was corrected by overseas volunteers who were part of the distribution teams and whose organisations are members of the Council and Committee. Besides the Council and Committee meetings, there are also separate coordination meetings between major donors and the government. This is the bigger picture that the media seems to miss from time to time.
I do not know whether I will again cop another dose of scathing criticism from the media for my comments this morning. If that happens, I can only comfort myself in the knowledge that the media in a roundabout way has my best interests at heart by acting as my publicity agents!!!
Jokes aside, I want to end my remarks to again encourage you to establish a Media Council to oversee standards even if I get blamed when I do so as being dictatorial and often referred to in some very expressive metaphors from my critics. That is media freedom.
This is the freedom of the media in our country and some of you have won several international awards over it. Even JAWS in its wisdom considered my contribution to ‘the cause’ of media freedom to merit the Award that sits prominently in my office.
I thank you again for inviting me and wish you a successful discussion for the remainder of your Forum.

(The report courtesy of Pacific Eye Witness)