It had to be a party that fitted the occasion – the 40th Anniversary of the Samoa Observer newspaper.
The story of Samoa’s only daily newspaper and its humble beginnings, which began through the pen of Editor-in-Chief Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa 40 years ago, is deeply intertwined with the journey that the country has taken.
But it was only fitting that the celebration to mark the milestone was held at a Samoan icon, rich in history dating back to the early 1930's – the Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Hotel.
The writing of the script, for this intricate gathering of who’s who in Apia, began in earnest in April this year.
Samoa Observer Publisher Muliaga Jean Malifa, reminiscent of the newspaper’s early days when she stood by her husband’s side and was the prime mover behind-the-scenes, was the architect of Friday night’ celebrations.
She worked in unison with hotel staff to prepare for the big night over a five-month period. From the menu to the drinks and arrangement of tables to cater for 300 guests.
And Samoa Observer Digital Editor Jarrett Malifa put the icing on the cake, with his ingenious display of the newspaper’s history through a display of newspaper mastheads on menu mats placed on each table, and old front page stories in the hotel foyer, which caught the eye of guests including Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sailele Malielegaoi, creating nostalgic moments of how far the newspaper and the country have come.
The ambiance of the hotel’s ballroom was noticeable with a New Zealand-based band entertaining guests with their renditions of popular hit sings including local Samoan favorites, ensuring the dance floor had couples swaying to the music.
The evening’s high profile guests including the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II, Member of the Council of Deputies, Tapusatele Le Mamea Ropati Mualia, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mataafa, a host of Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, members of the diplomatic corps and the business community.
Earlier in the evening, the Prime Minister, set the tone for the night by congratulating Samoa Observer founder and Editor-in-Chief, Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa and Publisher Muliaga Jean Malifa, praising them for overcoming numerous challenges over the last 40 years.
Deputy Director of the International Press Institute (I.P.I.), Scott Griffen, echoed similar sentiments and went a step further and appealed to Samoa’s Government to reconsider the Criminal Libel Act.
Only time will tell if the Prime Minister and his Government will seriously consider the appeal from Mr Griffen and the I.P.I., to address what some have described as an impediment to press freedom in Samoa.
But for that night alone it was time to celebrate a success story in the history of of this Pacific Island nation, and acknowledge the efforts of a man and his family, who continue to carry the flag of press freedom above all others in a journey of adversity that lasted 40 years.
It was fitting that 300 people from all walks of life celebrated press freedom in Samoa by converging on the “Grand Old Lady” Aggie Grey’s, to reminisce on the good times and to acknowledge that the journey was not easy for Gatoaitele and Muliaga Jean Malifa, their family and the numerous people they have employed over the years.
Today Samoa celebrates that achievement through the uncompromising content that Samoa Observer publishes through its daily pages and on its online platforms.
At the end of the day there has to be mutual respect between the Fourth Estate and those charged with the mandate to govern their people – as both institutions strive to better the lives of their citizens.
Gatoaitele defined this special relationship well in his speech on the night.
“To Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his Government, we would like to express our gratitude for your patience and understanding of our work. Although we may come across as antagonistic now and then, deep down we know that your love for your country is sincere,” he said.
“We know that you believe in a ‘free press’ and the vital role it’s playing in our little democracy, and for that reason we want to agree that the love hate relationship that seems to make a habit of showing up now and then, is nothing but a front that’s hiding the respect we share.”