Grenade threat in Savai'i, misinformation and World Press Freedom Day

News travel fast. And in this digital age, it can spread like wildfire.

Even if it is wrong, fabricated, inaccurate and half-baked, it doesn’t matter. The wide accessibility of the internet and the enabling of social media and other online platforms mean people will post, share and like it regardless of the consequences. It's easy to do, it’s only a click away.

It’s scary isn’t it? But then that’s the world we live in today. We’ve seen many cases where it only takes the push of a button to cause irreparable damage to anyone or anything.

But these are the signs of the times and Samoa is not immune from what other countries are experiencing. In mankind’s haste for progress – and in our case, living on a group of isolated islands, in the effort to keep up with the changing world – we’ve inadvertently created a monster. It’s a frightening monster, especially when we stop to consider the notion that information and knowledge is power.

Now if that is the case, imagine the terrifying consequences of misinformation and little knowledge then? Which is something we are seeing more and more these days. It will get worse before it gets better.

On these shores, the case where a single grenade was found in a package sent from Australia to a family in Savai’i is a classic example. The misinformation spread on social media – and sadly by some legitimate news organizations – was astonishing. It was outrageous.

For instance, there were reports of a “container of explosives” that had deliberately been sent to Savai’i. Some claimed on social media it was a container of bombs from China, intended to destroy the big island. Others said the explosives were part of a plot to blow Savai’i to oblivion and the Government was accused on multiple fronts.

We can go on but that’s enough. Suffice to say, these absurd claims highlight the dangers of misinformation. Of course people were only bound to be concerned and alarmed by it. Did we expect anything less?

And yet there was perfectly legitimate explanation for what happened. From what our Reporter Lanuola Tupufia established, by getting out to Salelologa and talking to key people there, the incident appears to have been a case of negligence on several fronts.

The family who sent the package – or packages – should have never included a grenade in the first place. The shipping company should have checked in Australia before the container was shipped. What would’ve happened if the grenade exploded during the voyage?

Then there is the question of how the container was allowed to reach Savai’i without being checked at the port of entry, which is Matautu?

These are legitimate questions. Which is no doubt the subject of a Police investigation which will determine the “appropriate legal actions to prevent this matter from occurring again.”

“We advise members of the public receiving packages from families overseas of the legal implications of bringing dangerous goods into Samoa."

In the end, there are valuable lessons for everyone here. There are lessons for the shipping companies, members of the public, all the relevant authorities and so forth. Which is what life is about, we learn from errors.

But perhaps the most valuable lesson for everyone is not to believe the misinformation that has become so common when it comes to these things. Just because someone can instantly post something doesn’t it make it the gospel truth. 

While everybody thinks they can do the work of journalists and media professionals simply by posting and saying whatever, nothing could be further from the truth.

There is a marked difference between real journalism and click bait happy social media posts. They are worlds apart. Journalism requires skills acquired from formal training and years of experience. It’s a calling for people who are objective, reliable, and are committed to telling the truth.

Which brings us to the fact that today is World Press Freedom Day.  All around the world, the media and people who believe in the importance of journalism as a fundamental principle in a functioning democracy will take a moment to pause and reflect on the importance of the day.

For the uninitiated, World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of U.N.E.S.C.O’s General Conference. It is an opportunity to:

• celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;

• assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;

• defend the media from attacks on their independence;

• and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Looking at what is happening in the world today – including the challenge of misinformation and deception - there has never been a more important time for press freedom and the need for strong quality journalism.

Know this folks, freedom of expression is one thing, abusing people, spreading misinformation and making unfounded allegations under the guise of freedom of expression, is something else.

Let’s not confuse the two, please. Whereas freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, which allows people to speak their mind freely and access information so they can hold the powers that be to account, the latter is damaging and must never be tolerated.

We say this because it destroys innocent people, families, communities, countries and eventually makes a mockery of the very freedom our forebears shed their blood and tears over, so we can live and enjoy such fantastic freedom today.

Today, we want to say that without free speech, the right to believe and express an opinion and quality journalism driven passion and integrity, democracy will wither and die. It’s that simple. That said, we also accept that freedom comes with boundaries and responsibility, things that are absent in the spread of misinformation we see so much of out there today.

Long live press freedom in Samoa and all over the world, God bless!


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