The Pacific Freedom Forum (P.F.F.) is calling on Pacific Islands Forum leaders to address the issue of over-zealous security officers, after a journalist was manhandled at the opening ceremony of the 48th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting at Vailima.
“It was upsetting to hear that a colleague, trying to capture Samoa’s traditional welcoming of Pacific island leaders, was manhandled by a policeman,” says P.F.F Chair Monica Miller.
Local and overseas journalists were edging up to the back corner of a tent, where some delegates were seated, to get out of the rain, when a police officer grabbed the journalist by the arm and tried to pull her out of the shelter.
Miller questioned the officer’s action.
“Why the need for force?” she asks. “A camera woman being manhandled by a plain clothed policeman amounts to assault.”
P.F.F is calling for the incident to be investigated, and the officer disciplined.
P.F.F notes that the police assault of the journalist, Heidi Yieng Kow from French Polynesia, took place against a background of decades of complaints about mistreatment of media at the forum.
P.F.F is concerned that it seems every year, forum organisers treat the news media with disdain, and even hostility.
An assault on a journalist by a police officer is a “new low”, according to Miller.
She says the officer could have politely asked the camerawoman to move.
“I want to add that the media was not given any rules as to where or where not to go during the opening ceremonies. I think that would have helped prevent this unfortunate incident.”
P.F.F called on JAWS, the Journalist Association of Samoa, to also take action.
“Maybe JAWS can organise a workshop for police and other public servants involved in hosting these major conferences in Samoa on the do’s and dont’s of working with media personnel.”
P.F.F believes this would be good in the light of Samoa hosting the 2019 Pacific Games and should include the fact that visiting news media may not speak English.
Contacted, Yieng Kow made light of the incident.
“I’m sure I came across an exception! Most people are super nice.”
However, Miller says the Pacific Islands Forum needs to answer P.F.F calls for a follow up to the historic 1990 meeting on relations between media and government.
“We are the Fourth Estate, the eyes and ears of more than 30 million people, across the world’s largest region.”
Mistreatment at the annual forum also ignores decades of declarations by the forum itself towards better recognition of news media.
“Pacific leaders have long called for media to do better than parachute journalism - to move beyond coups and cyclones. Yet when foreign and local media turn up to cover the region’s top meeting, they are often treated poorly.”
According to her LinkedIn profile, Yieng Kow first started in Tahiti media in 1999, before holding journalist positions in France and La Reunion islands, before returning to French Polynesia in 2002, writing and filming stories there for the last 15 years.
Responding to comment about the need for better relations between media and Forum hosts, Yieng Know agreed, “Yes, we must hope so.”
A Pacific Islands Forum official deferred questions over the assault to the Samoa government Press Secretariat.