JAWS describes Fono media protocols "a form of censorship"

The Journalists Association of Samoa (JAWS) has expressed dismay at recently introduced media protocols in the new Parliament House and described it as "a form of censorship".

JAWS president Rudy Bartley has appealed to the Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Toleafoa Faafisi, to reconsider the protocols and allow the media to film and take photos while the Parliament is in session. 

Early this week the Legislative Assembly, when advising of the Parliament agenda, notified the media that the taking of photos and videos in the House while it is in session is now prohibited. 

“An area for the media is set outside the Maota Fono where cable can be hooked on for live feed. Photos will be taken by the Office of the Legislative Assembly and will be made available on our Facebook page immediately after the sitting," the notice from the Office of the Speaker stated. 

However, when the Parliament convened today these media services were not available and Parliament staff referred reporters to radio 2AP for audio. 

Mr. Bartley, who was disappointed in the turn of events at the Parliament today, said the media industry was not consulted on the new media protocols laid down by the Office of the Speaker. 

“We are also saddened as there was no consultation with the media and forewarning in the introduction of these new rules," he said, and added that this is similar to the opening of the Parliament last week, when the media were advised at very late notice.

“This is very unprofessional and unbecoming of such a high profile Government institution, which represents the people of our country as mentioned so in the official opening as the people's parliament.” 

Last Thursday, during the official opening of the Maota Fono (Parliament House), Mr. Bartley said a number of media personnel reported being "verbally pushed around" by Legislative Assembly staff to various locations in the House. This is despite the design of the new Parliament catering for media personnel. 

“Banning of video and photos (taken by media) is very unusual and disturbing especially for a brand new multi-million dollar Australian funded project. Australians are very much champions of Freedom of the Media and the importance of the media in any modern democracy. 

The irony of millions of Australian dollars being spent on this building and the next day, the media is denied the basic rights of reporting (filming video and taking still photos) of parliamentary proceedings," he added. 

Mr. Bartley claims the Parliamentary Media would not be able to meet the quality required by the media industry, when it comes to the videos and photos taken of the sessions. 

“In addition, this action goes against the freedom of the media as the fourth estate to report on proceedings of Parliament without hindrance or interference. This is a form of censorship, when media is not allowed to film or take still photos (it wants), of parliamentary proceedings. 

“When these (video and photos) are provided by the Parliament, this is censorship as officials can select and edit material which it wants people to watch or see. This is unacceptable for the work of the media to be an effective tool in any democracy," he added. 

In an appeal to the Speaker of the Parliament House, the JAWS president said the original plans of the Maota Fono catered for the media with the inclusion of a press gallery, and it would be an irony for the "House of the People" to be without one in the 21st Century. 

“A press gallery would keep the media in a designated area while at the same time enabling the media access to resources in order to provide effective coverage of parliamentary proceedings. 

"We hope the new protocol is rescinded and phase two of the project include a Press Gallery, not just for the good of Media, but the service the media provides for the people of Samoa – for now and the future," he said, and indicated that these are "teething issues" which can be resolved. 

Attempts by the Samoa Observer to get comments from the Speaker were unsuccessful. 

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