International Press Institute congratulates Samoa Observer

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa ,

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Deputy Director of the International Press Institute (I.P.I.), Scott Griffen

Deputy Director of the International Press Institute (I.P.I.), Scott Griffen (Photo: Misiona Simo)

The International Press Institute has hailed World Press Freedom hero, Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa and his commitment to press freedom. 

The message was relayed by the Deputy Director of the International Press Institute (I.P.I.), Scott Griffen, when he spoke during the celebration of the Samoa Observer’s 40th Anniversary at the Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Hotel in Apia on Friday night.

“The fight for press freedom remains an uphill one; but with institutions like the Samoa Observer on our side, it is one that we can win,” Mr. Griffen said. 

“On behalf of I.P.I., I would like to congratulate the Samoa Observer on its 40th anniversary and thank Savea Mailfa and his team for their unwavering support for press freedom and quality journalism in Samoa, in the South Pacific and around the globe. We look forward to many, many more years of this newspaper’s strong, independent voice, and I can assure you that I.P.I. will be there to support it. Thank you and fa’afetai.”

Mr. Griffen also used the opportunity to urge the Government to reconsider their decision to revive the Criminal Libel Law. He said journalists should never face the risk of being jailed for doing their job.

 “Repealing Criminal Libel certainly isn’t a cure – all for press freedom – but we do believe it is an important step,” said Mr. Griffen.

“Therefore, we as I.P.I. urge you, Mr. Prime Minister, to reconsider your Government’s re-introduction of Criminal libel. Although we are absolutely sensitive to the challenges associated with social media and digital communication, we believe there are better alternatives, and our experience over decades and across continents has shown us that the risk to press freedom is simply too great. Journalists should never face the threat of jail for doing their jobs.”

Mr. Griffen was one of three speakers during the Samoa Observer’s birthday. The other two are Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi and Editor-in-Chief, Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa. 

Read Gatoaitele’s remarks on page 13. A final copy of the Prime Minister’s speech was not received at press time. In the meantime, the following is the full text of Mr. Griffen’s address:

 

It is a great honour to take part in the 40th anniversary celebration of the Samoa Observer on behalf of the International Press Institute, a global network of editors, publishers and leading journalists dedicated to defending press freedom. And it is truly a pleasure to be here in Samoa, in this incredibly beautiful and welcoming country.

The International Press Institute was founded almost 70 years ago, just after the Second World War, by a group of distinguished editors who believed that free and independent journalism would contribute to creating peace within and among societies. 

Since then, I.P.I. has grown into a global network with members in more than 100 countries, representing some of the world’s most prestigious media outlets as well as a great diversity of languages, religions and political ideologies. They are men and women committed to pursuing truth in the public interest – and, just as importantly, to supporting one another in times of need. The I.P.I. community is living proof that press freedom is a universal value, a good from which every individual and every society stands to gain.

We are so proud to count Savea Sano Malifa as one of our esteemed members, someone who together with his wife, Jean, has worked for over decades with unmistakable conviction and at great personal risk to bring the news to the Samoan public and acts as a fearless watchdog of those in power.

Indeed, I.P.I’s close relationship with the Samoa Observer began at a much different time and under much different circumstances than today, a time when the newspaper and its journalists faced severe levels of intimidation and harassment, including death threats, for their coverage of corruption and other forms of wrongdoing. It was in honour of Savea Malifa’s refusal to retreat from his commitment to independent journalism in the face of such challenges that I.P.I. named him one of our World Press Freedom Heroes – the organisation’s highest honour – in the year 2000. 

With that, he is in good company: I.P.I’s World Press Freedom Heroes also include former Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham, former Sunday Times Editor Harold Evans and the founder of Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, Rudolf Augstein.

 A GRAND OCCASSION: Some of the guests at the Samoa Observer’s 40th birthday celebration.
A GRAND OCCASSION: Some of the guests at the Samoa Observer’s 40th birthday celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.
ALL SMILES: Drinks, food and great company was had by all at the celebration.

One of the means used to harass Savea Malifa and the Samoa Observer at that time was the law of Criminal Libel. It was therefore a tremendous step forward when the Samoan government courageously voted to repeal Criminal Libel in 2013. In doing so, it joined a global trend, with countries from Norway to Ireland to Zimbabwe removing the offence from their books in recent years. 

The list also includes small island countries like Atigua and Barbuda, Grenada and Jamaica that, like Samoa, inherited the law through colonialism. Repealing criminal libel certainly isn’t a cure – all for press freedom – but we do believe it is an important step. 

Therefore, we as I.P.I. urge you, Mr. Prime Minister, to reconsider your Government’s re-introduction of Criminal libel. Although we are absolutely sensitive to the challenges associated with social media and digital communication, we believe there are better alternatives, and our experience over decades and across continents has shown us that the risk to press freedom is simply too great. 

Journalists should never face the threat of jail for doing their jobs.

What is remarkable about the Mailfas and the Samoa Observer isn’t only their brave fight for press freedom here in Samoa and their steadfast belief in quality journalism; it is also their dedication to defending journalists’ rights wherever in the world they are threatened. 

It was also their dedication to defending journalists’ rights wherever in the world they are threatened. It was a wonderful feeling to open up Thursday’s edition of the Samoa Observer and to find inside pages dedicated to press freedom challenges in places as far away as North Cyprus, where, incidentally, two courageous journalists face criminal defamation charges for their criticism of Turkey’s president. 

It brought a smile to my face, because it represents what is so valuable about the I.P.I. network: journalists who will stand in solidarity with one another to defend their fundamental right to inform the public.

Today, globally, press freedom is once again under attack. In Turkey, more than 150 journalists are currently behind bars, victims of a mass crackdown on dissent and systematically denied their right to a fair trial. Until recently, the list of jailed journalists include IPI Executive Board member Kadri Gürsel.

In Mexico, 23 journalists have been murdered since January, 2017, mostly in relation to their coverage of corruption, orgainsed crime or drug trafficking. 

Sadly, but not surprisingly, in none of those cases have the killers or masterminds been brought to justice. In Nigeria, editor Jones Abiri was abducted by secret police, reportedly tortured, and held with charges for two years until finally being released this month thanks to pressure from IPI and its members in the country.

But threats to press freedom are also emerging in places where they were to be least expected, in established democracies like the United States, home of the First Amendment, where the current president smears the media as an enemy of the people. In the best case, such language undermines reader trust in critical journalism; in the worst case, it turns editors and reporters into targets for violence. Unfortunately, it is also a gift to repressive governments around the globe, who gladly adopt such anti-media rhetoric and sharpen it for their own uses.

In such difficult times, when the legal and political guarantees of press freedom start to fray, it will fall once again on journalists themselves to stand in solidarity and defend their work, and to explain to their readers and to all members of society, why free and independent journalism matters and why we must fight to protect it. Explain what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said, as quoted in this Thursday’s edition of the Samoa Observer, that he preferred to have newspapers without a government rather than a government without newspapers. 

The fight for press freedom remains an uphill one; but with institutions like the Samoa Observer on our side, it is one that we can win. 

On behalf of I.P.I., I would like to congratulate the Samoa Observer on its 40th anniversary and thank Savea Mailfa and his team for their unwavering support for press freedom and quality journalism in Samoa, in the South Pacific and around the globe. 

We look forward to many, many more years of this newspaper’s strong, independent voice, and I can assure you that IPI will be there to support it. Thank you and fa’afetai.

© Samoa Observer 2016

Developed by Samoa Observer in Apia