A lot more to be done for true press freedom in Samoa
A media lecturer and journalist association member in Samoa says the removal of criminal libel laws and public media education are still on the agenda but a lack of unity among colleagues is stunting media freedom in the country.
Criminal libel laws in Samoa allow government leaders to access taxpayers' money to fight defamation claims, and journalists have campaigned unsuccessfully for years to have them repealed.
The Prime Minister has described the media climate in Samoa as "very safe" and the best of all the Pacific Islands.
Misa Vicky Lepou, a lecturer in media at the National University of Samoa, and a member of the country's journalists' association says that is not so.
She spoke to Alex Perrottet earlier, saying the current president of the media association is the government press secretary who strongly supports the act.
MISA VICKY LEPOU: At the moment there hasn't been any development. I think the government really has got the media industry in that context. Those were just words. We haven't seen any development since then. And it takes the media as one body to really push this issue through, which has been made known for many years. Now we have the media council on the other side. And for your information, Alex, there are still conflicting views amongst the media themselves, on the issue of the repealing the Act, because at the moment we have the government press secretary as the president of the Journalists Association, which is strongly supporting having the defamation act, in which the criminal and the civil libel are under, strongly supporting the act should be there, while the rest of the media are still pushing this issue through that these acts should be repealed. Those are conflicting views between the association as one body, which is the body that should be delivering the issues through the government. But it isn't. It's a different story.
ALEX PERROTTET: And parliamentarians are able to use the public money to bring those defamation cases...
MVL: Not all parliamentarians are eligible for that, but that's one of the issues that Savea Sano Malifa strongly highlighted, was the strong call by the Samoan Observer for the government to discontinue its policy that allows taxpayers' money to pay for the legal fees incurred by government leaders who claim they've been defamed. So it's their policy, because this policy frustrates efforts by the press to enquire into alleged misconduct by public officials.
AP: In the meantime, there's a public awareness campaign to help people understand the role of the media, as well.
MVL: Yes, we felt, as an institution, that on our part we should bring this awareness to the Samoan public. The tour really is to bring awareness to the Samoan public that there is more than just the media taking photos of the communities and the developmental stories, there's more than just another community service. So we have the upcoming tour towards the end of June, around Upolo Island, and we shall continue across Savaii Island come October.
AP: Journalists do say in Samoa that, in general, the public feel threatened by the media, so this is obviously an area that needs a lot more work.
MVL: Exactly. It's a lot of work, I tell you, Alex. This should have been done when we started the journey of media when it was first introduced in the country. That's our job from now on until forever to really bring that issue to the public.
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