On the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer the headline screamed: “Social Media Policy tells public servants to defend Govt. reputation.”
Now the questions are: “What government reputation that needs to be defended are we talking about here?
“Indeed, if the government has such a reputation, why is it entrusting the job of defending it to only public servants?
“In other words, is it fair to say the government does not trust those citizens of Samoa who are not public servants, with the task of defending its reputation?”
In any case, the “policy” we are talking about here is distributed by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
A 15-page document, it is titled The Government’s Social Media Policy for 2017, and on its front page are the words:
“If it is online - it can be found.
If you delete it - it can still be found.
Even if you secure it, it can still be accessed.”
So what is Tim Scully telling us now?
Well, the simple answer to that question, is: He’s saying that with online word technology today, every word that’s inserted in the web is capable of being found, no matter what?
So who is Tim Scully*?
Well there are many Tim Scullys. We don’t know at this stage, which Tim Scully the Government’s policy is referring to.
But a quick search on the internet leads us to the website The Verge. It reveals that “Tim Scully is the underground chemist, who planned to save the world using the drug LSD, and he was jailed as a result.”
“Indeed, he managed to get acid behind the Iron Curtain.”
And yet today, here in Samoa, it appears that this man’s ideas are being used by the Samoan government to defend, or is it to punish - public officials under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology’s Social Media Policy, for the year 2017?
The guidelines for personal government officials say: “When you are using social media for personal use, public servants should also consider the following - could what you are doing harm the reputation of your organisation and the Government of Samoa?
“Are you disclosing organisation material that you are not specifically authorised to disclose.
“Have you made it clear to others when your contribution is as a private individual and not as a representative of your organisation?
“Are you willing to defend what you post to your manager?
“Are you using Government owned infrastructure and if so, do you have permission to use it in this way?
“Are you behaving with integrity, respect and accountability?
“Government employees must use a private email address rather than their Government e-mail addresses when they’re engaging in social media activities for personal use.
“Personal use of social media must never interfere with work duties.”
Now the question that would just not go away, is: “But then why are these polices being introduced all of a sudden?”
“Employees may not engage in online communications activities which could bring the Government into disrepute.
“Personal details of yourself, if or other Government employees, should be given out, only the official details (office telephone, email or fax) for reference purposes.”
Down below the policy warns: “Employees may not engage in online communications activities which could bring the Government into disrepute.”
Now the question are: What are some examples of such online communications activities? How could they get the government into disrepute?
It would be good to know.
Now here’s another wonderful idea; it says: “This policy supports the idea of achieving an improved quality of life for all as envisioned in the Strategy for the Development of Samoa.”
It also says that “while there can be challenges, there are also undeniable benefits of using social media for government outreach and citizen engagement.’
Now in case you’ve forgotten, let’s take a quick look at our Constitution and remind ourselves of our basic freedoms, that are enshrined in there.
Article 13 reminds that all citizens of Samoa shall have the right:
. To freedom of speech and expression;
. To assemble peaceably and without arms;
. To form associations or unions; and
. To move freely throughout Samoa and to reside in any part thereof.
And now there’s the Fourth Estate.
When you're referring to fourth estate, you are referring to journalists as a whole. The fourth estate encompasses all of those who report the news.
The first use of the term was by Edmund Burke in 1787 during a debate in parliament.
It is used to accentuate the freedom of the press, not to be confused with the term "fourth branch" which proposes that they are not free from the government.
The press is called the fourth estate in the United States usually because they observe the political process.
They do this to make sure the participants do not exploit the democratic system. They play a crucial role in the outcome of political issues and candidates.
This is where the media is often called the fourth branch of the government instead of the fourth estate. I
The term fourth estate is often attributed to the British politician, Edmund Burke.
Burke said there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important than them all.
In the United States, the term fourth estate is sometimes used to place the press alongside, the three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial.
The fourth estate refers to the watchdog role of the press, one that is important to a functioning democracy.
And finally, there’s the law of Criminal Libel that is continuing to be banged about by the mighty and the powerful today, and yet it is still refusing to go away.
So let us remind that any law that’s aimed at gagging freedom of expression in Samoa is bound to fail.
Indeed, let’s think of Sir John Acton who coined the words: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely in such manner, that great men are almost always bad men.”
Now isn’t that sad!
Indeed, it would be a terrible shame if Sir John’s words would continue to be ignored by those great men who are running the Samoan government today. It surely would.
Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa God bless.
*Editorial has been altered from the printed version to reflect the fact there are many Tim Scullys and that we don’t know which Tim Scully the Government policy is referring to.