Samoa, integrity and media freedom

By Leautulilagi Vanessa Barlow-Schuster 24 February 2017, 12:00AM

Leautulilagi Vanessa Barlow-Schuster 

Chairperson of the Samoa Media Council

Remarks at the adoption of 

Code of Ethics for J.A.W.S.

I thank Dr. Falepo for his wise words for as we know we must be forever grateful to the Lord for the work we do. 

I also would like to acknowledge the distinguished Vice Chancellor of the National University of Samoa. Your presence is highly applauded. 

The same applies to Mr President and your Executive and fellow Council Members. 

This is indeed a milestone achievement and we must celebrate our success and continue to be mindful of the long journey ahead.

Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. I came across this interesting statement in terms of building professionalism across different professions and it reads like this “Do the right thing when no one is looking. It’s called integrity.” 

Of course we all know that there is always that one being, namely God who is watching. This integrity also applies to us as council members in undertaking any work we do, including work around Public awareness and education, relationship building and management of stakeholder relationships. Know that we are very much answerable to a higher power that watches equally and does not discriminate.

At the same time, protecting integrity and the public trust are fundamental to the media practitioner’s role and reputation. 

The bottom line is basically that successful public relations hinges on the ethics of its practitioners. 

Best practice and expectations in terms of ethics has been around far longer than codes of Practice as procedural and policy documents. This Code of Practice provides for a critical safety net for when there are slips in the upholding of ethics and integrity.

The Code of Practice assumes that the Media Council preferably will act as a tribunal of last resort in relation to complaints about alleged breaches of the code. Like other specialised practitioners in other fields, it is expected that Media practitioners equally value their reputations.

It flows from this that arguably as professionals you will want to avoid having to appear before the Council to answer complaints about performance. Self regulation is very much encouraged and promoted. The benefits of self reviewing and regulating are that News media are then seen to be working to uphold and strengthen their reputations and social legitimacy, especially if there are strong indications of actively supporting high ethical standards.

There are benefits in being demonstrably part of a group of media which have bound themselves to act responsibly and are prepared to be held to account. In other countries and possibly Samoa, or maybe it is too early to preempt, that one might say, that they do not need such a brand or affiliation because they have built up such a reputation themselves, independently of an establishment of a Code of Practice overseen by an appropriate governing body.

If that be the case then we don’t expect to see matters from these groups of news media reach the Council given they have already built such a reputation. However, given the long history that precedes this Code of

Practice, I think the brand will be significant as it should improve news media reputation and standing in the community if they are visibly part of a system which places a high value on responsibility. 

It is my respectful observation that if the Council gets very few matters then that is a good thing as it tells us the industry itself is doing a good job of upholding professional standards. Again can I take the opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work that preceded this adoption, we acknowledge the faith and trust placed in us. 

We will navigate these uncharted waters with care and high levels of common sense and promote the spirit of partnership and empowerment so we can promote our interest in balancing the media’s rights of freedom of expression along with the responsibilities that come with these.

By Leautulilagi Vanessa Barlow-Schuster 24 February 2017, 12:00AM

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