Happy 40th birthday, Samoa Observer!
Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Tupuola Tufuga Efi
I’m sad that I am unable to join you in person today. But I am grateful that with technology I can still share my warm congratulations and some reflections.
Savea and Muliaga and their Samoa Observer family are a godsend to Samoa. And I, perhaps more than anyone else, have been a long-time student and recipient of their unselfish generosity, and unwavering journalistic professionalism and service. I may not have always appreciated it, but I have always valued and respected it.
I first met Savea through Maualaivao Albert Wendt. He was one of Al’s prodigies. Back then Savea and a few friends set up the Observer and decided to take on my government – as is par for the course for a new independent newspaper.
When they had their first birthday they asked me to give an address. (One of the joys and curses of old age is that one gets to relive a lifetime of addresses as one rereads and reflects on them). In that address I said a number of things, but one of the things that still remains true 40 years on is that “it [the Observer] is never dull and it is always stimulating”.
Over the last 40 years Savea and Muliaga have taken the Observer to formidable heights. They have shown us that ideals have a role to play in society, and that the independent media has a responsibility to help sustain hope in those ideals: the ideals of justice, truth, democracy and basic human decency. The Observer has never failed to give space to those voices in our society that have been marginalised for one reason or another. It has never failed to remind us that there are many in our society that are not so well off and that a little kindness can go a long way.
In reflecting on the last 40 years of the Observer’s life I marvel at its tenacity and perseverance. A tenacity and perseverance that emanates from the character of its leadership. Today the Observer is reaping the rewards of that tenacity and perseverance.
In 1998, the Observer won both the Commonwealth Press Freedom Astor Award and the Index on Censorship’s International Press Freedom Award. Savea and Muliagatele have also been awardees of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Pacific Freedom of Information Award. In 2000 Savea was hailed as a Press Freedom Hero when he won one of the 50 prestigious World Press Freedom Heroes Awards.
That’s not bad for a ‘querulous reporter’ and his newspaper, which started on the smell of an oily rag and in a country barely the size of a pinhead on the world map. And, to cap it off, the hard work and dedication that Savea and Muliagatele have given to their life’s vocation is now bearing fruit with the recent achievements of their staff.
In particular, the joint awarding of the prestigious 2016-2017 UN FAO Boerma Award to their editor Mata’afa Keni Lesa and to journalist Ms. Zeynab Zandati from Kenya – this is the first time that a Pacific Islander has won this award. And, as well the awarding of the first Indigenous Climate Change Media Partnership (CCMP) Fellowship last year, 2017, to their chief reporter, Joyetter Feagaimaalii Luamanu. This is high achievement. The Observer is well and truly beyond the status of a survivor. It is now iconic leader and freedom of speech hero in Samoa.
Savea and Muliaga and their supporters have made many sacrifices to get to this iconic status. They have learnt to navigate the ups and downs of the relationship between business and politics. And they have stayed true to their convictions about the rights of the people (especially of those less privileged) to be heard and to be given fair and balanced reporting of information. This allows the people of Samoa to hold their leaders (including those in the media) accountable. This in itself is worthy of celebration.
Today Samoa is at a cross-road in her history. It is faced with a new colonialism that I see to be more dangerous than that faced by our constitutional forefathers. The forces controlling this new colonialism is beyond the reach of the average or ordinary Samoan. It is camouflaged and lives insidiously from both outside and within ourselves. Those probing articles published by the Observer that have unpacked this new colonialism are critical to our education on how best to identify it, understand it and deal with it. The Observer has not shied away from publishing these kinds of articles and for this they should be supported and commended. Such articles are a must for all democratic societies.
As a spiritual people we must pay attention to how this new colonialism attacks all that is sacred. In the neo-colonial space nothing is holy, especially that labelled ‘customary’ or ‘traditional’, nor even it seems the rule of law. As Savea passionately reasoned in an article to the Pacific Journalism Review, even the rule of law has become subservient to the biases of those in power. When only one political party controls the making of laws, it is only a short step away from them also controlling the interpreting and enforcement of those laws. In our current system without a strong opposition party the Observer has become by default Samoa’s check and balance on the rightful exercise of political power. That is a significant load to carry and one they should not have to carry alone.
Every society needs heroes and icons. The Observer is one of ours. It has earned its place in Samoa’s history books as a leader in its field, not only in Samoa or the Pacific region, but in the world. It leads by example, is trail-blazing, and models how to achieve a dream – one that many (including myself) had doubts could be achieved.
In 2000 I gave salute to Savea and Muliaga for their leadership and for proving us doubters wrong. Today, almost twenty years later I continue to salute them. I continue to sing:
O Mose lava oe o le ta’ita’i ala
O Isaraelu lenei ua malaga
E ui ina mamao ma tele tausaga
Ae faamoemoe pea lava i folafolaga
O le tatou tofi o le nuu o Kanana.
Moses, you are our leader
Israel will journey with you
Regardless of how far or for how long
But we place our trust in the prophecy We believe Canaan is our divine heritage.
I hail the dawn of another successful 40 years in the Observer’s journeying towards Canaan.
But for now, I say happy 40th birthday, to the Samoa Observer today! Today we dance and sing like the Israelites, by flaunting our happiness and pride and by wearing siapo and u’u and walking the pathway of achievement strewn with fragrant flowers chanting: asa pae, asa pae, le ala i le mafa e… mua ia ina mua, mua o. Soifua.