Veteran journo hits back at Press Secretary

A veteran journalist and freelancer, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia, has challenged the Government’s Press Secretary, Nanai Laveitiga Tuiletufuga, after he was accused of breaching media ethics.

Autagavaia has also called on the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Prime Minister, Agafili Shem Leo, to review how the Press Secretary is handling the release of information during the coronavirus crisis.

Autagavaia issued the challenge after a letter to the editor by Nanai was published in the Sunday Samoan on 5 April 2020, which questioned Autagavaia’s work as a journalist.

The letter described Autagavaia as a “self-appointed Messiah of media freedom” and accused him of using materials from the Press Secretary for his “commercial free-lance enterprise without a murmur for his own financial gains.”

“To that extent, I find my good friend Autagavaia’s ethics, integrity and professionalism questionable. I will leave the judgement to you and readers of the Samoa Observer,” Nanai wrote.

But Autagavaia has demanded that the Press Secretary tell him what media ethics he has breached. 

He reminded that his dispute with the Press Secretary started because the media has been denied an opportunity to ask questions of public officials like the Prime Minister and the Director General of Health.

“If we were not given an opportunity for a press conference then asking him to provide that audio was to use the information from the interview,” Autagavaia said.

“He said that I am running a commercial enterprise but I am a paid working journalist like any other journalist, I’m not running a business. It is like him, he is paid by the Government to do what the Government wants and I am paid by these overseas media (organisations) to do what they want and we must inform people with facts.”

Autagavaia said Nanai should be careful about loosely throwing around terms like media ethics and integrity.

“If a media organisation has made a mistake, then write to them,” he said. 

“This is why the Media Council invented the code of practice because the Government wanted a media council law to address breaches done in the media industry.

 “We are all here to serve the public in relaying information relating to the S.O.E. and the protection of our people against the coronavirus.”

Autagavaia added that all journalists have a common goal.

 “The reason why is because we want to find facts, we want to find out the truth and we want to deliver that truth to the people. We are the eyes and the ears of the public.”

In his letter, Nanai clarified that all of the Prime Minister’s press conferences have been suspended until further notice in compliance with the S.O.E. orders.

 “To continue the flow of information dissemination from government to Samoa   Radio 2AP, a camera for Digital TV and the Press Secretariat has been tasked to deliver this very important responsibility,” he added.

The letter to the Samoa Observer editor also highlighted that live stream feeds on Facebook are freely available along with the videos on government television channel.

 “You are aware that video clips of all government updates and press releases are distributed daily to all our media partners. This has been done in the spirit of partnership that government and the private media have shared over these many years.

 “The Government under no circumstance is prohibiting or restricting freedom of the Independent Media to research and investigate their own material for their respective publication, radio and television.”

But Autagavaia disagrees. He said most of the information are only posted on the Government’s social media pages late at night, sometimes after 10pm.

 “From the beginning of the S.O.E. the media was informed that all information relating to coronavirus comes from the Press Secretariat,” Autagavaia said.

 “We want to be there when the Prime Minster delivers a message to the people and also give us the chance to ask questions.

 “I was denied entry when the Prime Minister was being interviewed previously because a Police officer told me that he was advised by Nanai that other media are not allowed just the Government media are inside conducting the interview.”

He added that if the article titled, “Health Ministry’s public absence scrutinized” was not published the media would not have known that they were not prohibited by being present during interviews with the prime minister.

 “Our Prime Minister relayed that the media was not prohibited. The policy of the Government is that they do not compete with the private sector.

 “Most of the time Nanai is competing with us, he posted first on Government’s page while we get the information last. At times other media organisations get the updates while others do not.”

Autagavaia called on the Chief Executive Officer of Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Agafili Shem Leo, to look into the conduct of the Press Secretary.

 “I am also calling on the Prime Minister to tell his Press Secretariat to inform the media when he is being interviewed as well as the Director General because the only media present at the interview sessions are the Government media.”

He added that this is why he said that the media is being spoon fed with the information that is being given to them.

 “There is no door opened to the media for the Director General of Health.

 “And if Nanai is doing the job which is supposed to be done by the media then please provide all information for the media.

 “Stop throwing stones at the media, if he is there, look after his job very well which I wish him all the best because life goes on and you never know what is going to happen with life.”

He added that they even said that the Government and Private media are working together but that is not the case.

"And also they should understand our work as well; our role is to inform the public.

 “But with that I am not saying we are perfect, we do make mistakes and that the code of practice addresses the mistakes we make.

 “The Government has a duty to serve the public.”

To date, Nanai has not responded to emailed questions sent by the Samoa Observer in relation to Autagavaia's comments.

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