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Samoa’s press freedom ranking, and the digital highway

Yes, its that time of the year again, when the World Press Freedom Index annual rankings by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders are released.Around the world, citizens are either praising or shaming their governments and public office holders, over how they as individuals are allowed to exercise their freedom using all that the Fourth Estate has to offer as well as enjoying other rights such as the freedom of expression. Interestingly, Samoa has not dropped back to 23 or moved forward to 21 – the country has maintained its 22nd placing from the 2018 index. And depending on which chair you are sitting on this morning, while reading this editorial, it could be “good” or “bad”. Does Samoa deserve a pat on the back for consistency in maintaining its 22nd placing? Yes. The good news is the country didn’t fall back to 23 and further afield. But is it good for the country to remain static, without making progress in our bid to cement our standing as a regional model of press freedom? No. There is a lot of work to do, if there is to be any traction to progress on the index.Reporters Without Borders didn’t mince its words, when it identified the Samoa Government’s Criminal Libel law, as the country’s biggest obstacle to ultimate press freedom."A law criminalizing defamation was repealed in 2013, raising hopes that were dashed in December 2017 when Parliament restored the law under pressure from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, giving him license to attack journalists who dared to criticize members of his Government. "A few months later, in early 2018, the Prime Minister warned Samoan media outlets not to “play with fire” by being too critical in their reporting or else his government would censor their websites,” the assessment by the Paris-based press freedom watchdog stated. And the Journalist Association of (Western) Samoa (JAWS) president, Rudy Bartley, echoed similar sentiments last night when contacted for comment by the Samoa Observer."This law is a form of media censorship and is a hindrance to freedom of information. Freedom of information is essential in any democracy and the Criminal Libel Law is a threat to the work of the media and people's freedom of expression. "In addition, the fall of ranking may also be linked to other recent issues impacting on media freedom in Samoa. “Examples: difficulty of media accessing up-to-date information from government officials, detaining of journalists by police while doing their jobs, and unfair restrictions of local private media in coverage of official government events (official visits and international conferences hosted by Government)," he said.And if our friends in the Samoa Government don’t know, then perhaps this the best time to say it: there is nothing wrong with setting the bar high in Samoa, in terms of press freedom.In fact, we all strive to deliver services to the same constituency – the people of Samoa. Our parliamentary leaders are mandated through universal suffrage, to deliver goods and services to the people, and create laws to improve the lives of our people. The media is mandated with the responsibility to inform, educate and empower citizens with information on the performance of the Government-of-the-day and to alert leaders in the Parliament to shortcomings in the Government’s development agenda, in the hope that the issues will be identified and resolved for the betterment of the people. At the end of the day, we should be partners and our roles – while different in foundation and history – should be complimentary. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with dreaming of improving Samoa’s ranking towards the 20th placing. But first things first: Criminal Libel Law should be abolished. And grievance mechanisms through Samoa’s Courts, which include mediation, should be promoted.We take our hats off again to Norway, for coming tops in the 2019 Index for the third year running, while acknowledging the efforts of Finland (up two places) which has taken second place from the Netherlands (down one at 4th), where two reporters who cover organized crime have had to live under permanent police protection. We note an increase in cyber-harassment to have caused Sweden (third) to lose one place. But are mindful of the long-term benefits of a Samoa Government-supported internet security training run by America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).Last year a Samoa Government delegation visited Silicon Valley in the U.S. and met with technology companies and public officials as a first step towards making Samoa a regional innovation hub. The visit was part of a project that the Minister of Communications and Information, Afamasaga Rico Tupai, led. The project was called Innovation Economy for a Digital Samoa”. The Samoa media industry can become the vehicle that the Government can use to drive its digital innovation agenda. But before that can happen, we should work together to fix up the potholes on that digital highway.Have a lovely Tuesday Samoa and God bless.

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Street Talk

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Public express mixed reaction to M.M.R. vaccination resumption

I have heard of the incident in Savai'i before and I have to apologize to the nurses for saying this but I will not trust my kids to be vaccinated anymore. I’d rather have them stay at home and I take care of them there, than have them take the risk of not knowing if the same thing would happen again or not. It’s not like I’m bad mouthing the nurses and their job or whatever, but I just do not intend to continue my son’s vaccination ever again.It’s good because what usually happens is that parents are always looking forward to having their children vaccinated and having that would protect them for a long period of time. But ever since the incident from Savai’i, I noticed that a lot of parents are starting to doubt the MMR vaccination. I am just want the people to know that we have to have our faith again in the jobs of the nurses. That was just a mistake that could be learnt and to never happen again because at the end of the day, it’s for the safety of our children.I’m about to give birth to my baby and it has been such a worry for me when I heard of the deaths last year, I was confused of whether to vaccinate my baby in the future or not but I guess it all depends on our faith. When the right time comes that I feel confident to vaccinate my baby then I will wait for that right time but for now I am putting my trust in God to show me what to do.I support the continuation of the MMR vaccination because we all know that it’s something that can protect our children from all the different diseases that are floating in the air. Two, we have to think about the safety our children in the future. What will happen to them if they don’t take vaccination? These are the things that we should consider when we think about our decisions. I know that ever since the incident, we have doubted the vaccine, but we are a Christian country and we have to put our faith in God to guide our nurses and ourselves as well.I have a one-year-old son and he has had only one MMR vaccination. Ever since the incident from Savai'i, I stopped taking him to the hospital, up to when I heard that the vaccination was terminated for a period. From then onward, I told myself that I will never take my children to for vaccination ever again – even if it opens again. But this morning seeing all these mothers and their children sort of changed my mood so to be honest, I am putting my faith in God to guide me in doing what I am supposed to do for my children.The right thing to do is to have our own children protected at home by ourselves. That is the right thing to do because it has already taken lives of those innocent babies who are our blessings from above. So what I suggest we should do is to have them checked at the hospital if they’re sick and maybe take medications for them for cure instead of vaccinations. I am willing to do whatever it takes to safeguard my kids at home rather than taking risks. My kids are my blessings from the heavenly Father and I can’t risk their lives.

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Letter to Editor

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U.S. Ambassador tries but no one is fooled

The photo in Wednesday’s Samoa Observer of the American Ambassador and his good lady with Imam Laulu Mohammed Stanley is very touching. Such fake empathy and compassion! If Ambassador Brown is truly sympathetic about what happened to the Muslim community in Christchurch, why not do something real like telling his boss in the White House and his former employers at Fox News to stop demonizing the Muslims with lies and fake news? And while you’re at it by the way, do the same with the evangelical so-called Christians of America.Because when you have such power over how people think and behave, you can’t go on preaching hate against other peoples and then not expect your followers and admirers somewhere to act on it. Words have consequences, the more so when they come from leaders. And what good is wearing a hijab in Samoa other than to take people here for fools, and to copycat the incomparable Ms. Ardern? The big difference is that Ms. Ardern wore the signature Muslim women dress with panache, compassion and most importantly sincerity. The whole world saw that in her, and with the exception of you know where, applauded. She also backed it up immediately afterwards with concrete action.  So please don’t add insult to injury and desecrate the hijab.  Your current employer in the White House and former employer at Fake News continue to empower killers like what’s his name in the Christchurch massacre. Wearing the hijab at this time is nothing but hypocrisy of the highest order and fools no one here. E le valea uma ValeGasa Lefa T. Vailima

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