The COVID-19 pandemic and effective media partnerships

These are challenging times for humanity as we witness thousands lose their lives to coronavirus (COVID-19), and economies around the world decimated leaving millions unemployed, their lives in ruin and future uncertain.

Samoa is yet to have a confirmed case of COVID-19, thanks to strict travel restrictions imposed by the Samoa Government in January this year, but we have not been spared the effects of the virus’ global onslaught.

It’s deadly spread in bigger regional neighbours such as Australia and New Zealand Fiji – two of our three main transit points (besides Fiji) to the outside world – made it necessary for all international travel into and out of Samoa to be banned. 

The travel ban announced by the Government went into effect on March 25, putting a stop to all commercial flights and shipping, except under special circumstances (for flights) and cargo, fishing or fuel vessels.

Travellers – who had to undergo a strict 14-day quarantine upon their arrival in one of few last commercial flights into Samoa last month, to ensure they were free of the virus – have become the public faces of the global pandemic in Samoa.

It is why there was joy and relief all around when about 50 passengers were released on Wednesday evening by the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) officials, after they completed their mandatory 14-day quarantine to be certified virus-free.

But we are not out of the woods as yet as the country goes through the first week of a four-week Government-declared state of emergency (S.O.E.), to mitigate risks associated with the COVID-19.  

And we are cognisant of our role as the nation’s only daily newspaper and our duty and responsibility to our readers in these challenging periods of our history. We continue to do our best to keep Samoa informed.

Therefore, concerns expressed this week (Journalist hits back at Govt. Press Secretary) by veteran journalist and freelancer, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia, about the work of the Government’s Press Secretary touches at the core of our mandate as a media organisation to report without fear or favour.

We share his concerns at the lack of access for private media organisations and freelance journalists to ask questions of public officials like the Prime Minister and the M.O.H. Director General in a time of crisis such as the global pandemic.

This quote by Autagavaia encapsulates and defines the work of the Fourth Estate here in Samoa and throughout the world: “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.”

The Government’s Press Secretary, Nanai Laveitiga Tuiletufuga, in a letter dated 4th April, 2020 to the Samoa Observer Editor Mata’afa Keni Lesa, highlighted his office’s distribution of video clips, press releases as well as Facebook Live Stream feeds of leaders’ press briefings as part of the Government’s information dissemination process.

However, our obligation to our readers compels us to be at the start of the Government’s information dissemination process, asking the questions that matter and ensuring balance in our stories prior to publication.

That is to say we are thankful for the content provided by the Government Press Secretariat, but we believe we will let our readers down, if we do not do our own research and investigations (which would include interviews with leaders) on issues of concern to them and the country.

Therefore, now is not the time for disunity but effective partnerships, especially amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic, which has claimed over 87,000 lives and infected over 1.5 million people globally according to Johns Hopkins University

Our people also continue to be overwhelmed on a daily basis by misinformation courtesy of social media, their fears of COVID-19 pushing them to the internet to seek more information on the global pandemic, which just five months ago was unknown to most people.

The threat posed by the virus to our people remains and we must not be complacent and drop our guard. At the end of the day, we all want the same outcomes for our people and country, that is a Samoa free of diseases and prosperity for all.

Let us continue to adhere to the S.O.E. orders and have a blessed Easter weekend.

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