“Power ... corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely ... - Sir John Acton
On Press Freedom Day,
Poor Samoa. The seemingly mad rush with which Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and his cronies are moving to gag press freedom in our country is a real worry.
Are they aware of what they’re doing?
Tupua Tamasese Lealofi would be stirring in his grave right now. So would be Mataa’fa Fiame Faumuina, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi, Malietoa Tanumafili II, Va’ai Kolone, Tofilau Eti Alesana.
Having fought for this freedom, they would be crying tears of sadness.
First, the Speaker of the House, La’auli Leuatea Polata’ivao, made history when he announced the media would be banned from Parliament.
Did he know what he was talking about? Does he own Parliament?
In case he is unclear, Parliament belongs to everyone. It is therefore everyone’s right to know exactly what is happening in there, especially what their representatives are doing and saying inside that House.
And it is the media’s job as the Fourth Estate to tell everyone precisely what that is, and not a semblance of what he or anyone else thinks it is.
Has he forgotten already that when he tried to save Samoa’s first parliament he did not succeed, and the House was torn down anyway with Samoa’s Democracy buried in the rubble there.
Is he now also trying, with orders from his boss obviously, to a bury Freedom under the same rubble? The mind stutters.
Second, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is putting his foot down on what he believes is bad publicity damaging Samoa’s “reputation as a tourism destination.”
And how is he going about it?
By turning the Samoa Tourism Authority into a human machine who will exercise its “lawful controls” vested in it by law to punish those who publish information that is “false,” “harmful” or “prejudicial to a public perception of Samoa” as a tourist destination.
And the punishment?
A “fine of not less than 50 penalty units or imprisonment” for three months. But what are “penalty units” by the way? Might they be prejudicial to a public perception of Samoa?
We have to know the answer to this one so that we do not publish those units and then get convicted and punished as a result.
One question ha arisen though: Who in his right mind would want to publish anything that is false and harmful to Samoa’s reputation as a tourist destination?
Who? Just one name is enough.
And third, Tuilaepa’s pet project; his determined attempt to gain full control of the Samoan media with the establishment – “as soon as possible” - of a Media Council to regulate it.
This time, it is Samoa’s top lawman, Attorney General Ming C. Leung Wai, who is telling us all about it.
He writes: “To ensure that standards pertaining to accurate, balance and fair reporting are maintained, a media council must be established as soon as possible.”
However, the Samoa Observer’s stand on this matter remains.
When representatives of the Samoa Law Reform Commission (SLRL) met last year with media practitioners to discuss this issue, we made our position clear.
We said then that we have been operating all those years without a media council, so why should we have one now. We also reminded them that there were defamation laws in place to keep the media in line, so that they were quite able to regulate themselves.
Besides, there was the cost of running such a council to consider, and we told SLRL that if the government would finance it, then that would be fine with us but we would abstain from playing any role in it.
Our concern is that direct political involvement in the media will lead inevitably to political interference with government supporters taking over, so that the role of the media as an objective critic of the government is either abused or totally abandoned, and as a result the media’s service to the public becomes ineffective so that it loses its right to be respected by the public, and consequently its expressed opinion is worthless since it is no longer listened to or taken seriously by the public.
That is our opinion anyway.
In any case, we must thank the government for getting rid of those archaic laws of criminal defamation from our law books.
As for the Newspapers and Printers Act 1993, we are also thankful that there is now a move, as our Attorney General has revealed, to repeal it.
Still, what a mess the Human Rights Protection Party government is doing to people’s fundamental human rights?
Why are they so intent on frightening people as if they don’t want them to think, laugh and sing, as they’re expressing their opinions freely in their own country?
What human rights are they protecting anyway?
Now that they’re coming out with these silly laws aimed at bashing press freedom, shouldn’t their name be changed to Human Rights Bashing Party?
Our real though is that the one thing that these laws have in common is the government’s aim to gag press freedom in this country.
We are worried because this is not new to us. Neither is it new to the government.
It happened before and now it is happening again. Are we seeing history repeating itself?
The last time they tried to use the law of criminal libel to smother press freedom in this country, the tools that were used to keep it alive were destroyed in a “suspicious” fire.
And yet press freedom refused to be extinguished. It is still here today.
So let us remind everyone one more time that any law that is deliberately aimed at gagging freedom of expression is bound to fail.
Any law that is designed to intimidate members of the public into following the status quo blindly, is bound to fail.
Any law that is designed to threaten with punishment members of the public for being critical of their government, is also bound to fail.
For freedom is a gift from God.
It is everyone’s reward for being here. It is therefore everyone’s job to use is well to benefit mankind.
It follows that this freedom we are talking about can neither be gagged nor shackled by any law made by man.
And so to those who are trying hard to make the media in Samoa look like a network run by idiots, we ask that they desist, since freedom in Samoa will live on.
As for the mighty and the powerful controlling the way we live in our little country today, let us remind them of Sir John Acton’s defining words.
He said: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely in such manner, that great men are almost always bad men.”
It would be a terrible shame if the last half of Sir John’s quote would prove accurate with some of the great men we have in the Samoan government today.