P.M. defends top cops

The Prime Minister believes the nation’s two top cops often have “more pressing matters” than responding to news media for updates and information on crime and emergencies.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi was asked last week to comment on the Police Commissioner and his media department’s lack of timely communication with news organisations. 

The policy is for the appropriate authority to respond in a timely fashion, and in line with a code of ethics and due processes. 

But Tuilaepa said he trusts the Commissioner and his Deputy to deal with media inquiries “appropriately.”

“As in any business public relations is very important,” he said.

“The two top law officials at times are not readily available, as they have more pressing matters pertaining to the safety and security of the country to deal with, rather than to assist in writing your ready-made articles to be published every week,” he said. 

As well as constrained by time, the Prime Minister suggested chief executive officers might prefer to avoid being questioned, accusing the Samoa Observer of using information to “ridicule the source.”

“Your usual style of asking for information to be used by you to ridicule the source does not help. Then you wonder why CEOs avoid wasting their time when they have more important things to do,” he said.

Regarding reporting on crime, Tuilaepa suggested news media rely on the courts to write stories, for a “credible source of information.”

“I again reiterate an earlier suggestion for media personnel to use the Courts as a credible source of information since that is where all the evidence and investigation findings supporting the charges will be made public.  

“I think the media at times are spoiled and are expecting to be spoon-fed by government,” he said.

However, Journalism Association of Samoa (JAWS) president Rudy Bartley said it is an unfair comment by the Prime Minister.

He said one cannot generalise about journalists, as like in any profession there is a range of people.

“There are some really active, really good reporters, media people and then you have some not so active people, so to say all media is like that is unfair,” Mr Bartley said.

“We have our code of practice which we try to encourage our reporters to adhere to and try to follow.”

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Mr Bartley explained that it is up to each and every news organisation to what extent they use press releases (articles or explainers disseminated by organisations with a story to share, like the Government).

“The reporter will determine if it’s newsworthy, if it needs to be investigated, if it may run or may not run,” he said.

While it’s true that some reporters may rely too much on press releases, Mr Bartley would like to see more young journalists learn to make more effort to investigate press releases.

“Are journalists able to write an objective story using a press release? These are issues that come down to training and journalists being more aware of the issues around using press releases,” he said.

The Prime Minister said Government press releases issued to news media are also published on Government websites, for readers to have access to them.

“You only publish little of what we release and leave out what reflects on your paper’s bad practices,” he said.

“That’s another unfair comment,” Mr Bartley said.

“We are all looking for information, making sure it’s accurate and useful for the public.”

Mr Bartley said he would consider the comment unfair regardless of which media organisation it may have been about, saying the Samoa Observer is often picked on for being a critical newspaper.

“It won’t be the Observer next time.

“It’s just because, I think, Observer is doing a lot of work exposing things and is sometimes critical,” he said.

But the negative comments directed at news media organisations and reporters from Government are not new, Mr Bartley said.

“This is how media have been dealt with for a while, not just the Observer. 

“The media in general have been accused of so many things over so many years, and somehow we become used to it, and have a thick skin.”

As part of ongoing work to make journalism better in Samoa, JAWS is working with government ministries to learn how media and ministries can better understand each other’s roles and responsibilities, and ultimately better serve Samoa.

The work will go into improving the Journalism Code of Practice, which offers basic guidelines for journalists to do their work properly.

“With the code of practice we can continue to have a better resource for our up and coming journalists, to keep our good work going,” Mr Bartley said. 

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