Debate stirs our democracy; we need more of it

By The Editorial Board 06 May 2020, 12:33AM

Saturday’s Weekend Observer carried a most unusual but most appreciate contributionl 

It was a response to a critical analysis of a decision by the Samoa National Provident Fund (S.N.P.F.)  to purchase land from other arms of the Government.

The letter was written by the Fund’s Chief Executive Officer, Pauli Prince Suhren (“S.N.P.F. C.E.O. defends fund from criticism”).

Despite its being devoted to criticising an argument made in these pages, we are writing to thank Pauli for his contribution and to encourage more C.E.O.s to follow his lead.

Many aspects of Pauli’s letter made it unique. It was longer than the original editorial (a sign of a thoughtful engagement with the issues it raised); it was written in lively language; and it was highly critical of this newspaper.

We welcome every one of these characteristics and, again, we convey our gratitude to Pauli for taking the time to write to us.

The media fulfils many roles in our country, We canvassed some of these in our recent coverage of World Press Freedom Day.

But among the most critical is to provoke debate. An exchange of views on policy can only improve either the way it is ultimately constructed; or improve public understanding of the issues it addresses by exposing people to reasoned arguments on both sides of an argument.

And it is clear no harm whatsoever can come from an exchange of views.

But in Samoa, where the state of opposition to the party of Government is all but non-existent, we do not see, as we should, criticism or debate in the first branch of our political system: the legislature.

Indeed, we have seen too often in recent times attempts to engage in debate in the Parliament met with criticism intended to discourage further contributions.

This is the exact opposite of a Parliament’s role. The Prime Minister’s own words make it plain; it cannot be denied; the Parliament’s role as a house of debate in Samoan democracy is broken. A culture of silence and compliance now prevails; raising questions with the aim of improving Government legislation, the fundamental point of Parliament, is discouraged to the point of being absent. 

That means that the other branches of Government must now be relied upon to take on this essential role.

One of these is the court. It is hugely important. But its role as a forum is by necessity limited; and its decisions do not reach a large audience.

That leaves the fourth estate, also known as the media. As the nation’s only daily outlet we are in a unique position to cover debate regularly in our news reports.

But promoting debate and provoking thoughts is the key purpose of the newspaper’s other key sections apart from newsgathering. Its editorials, opinion pieces, and letters are all designed to debate issues of national importance and foster analysis of those critical issues in ways that suggest possible solutions. 

We regard contributing to public debate as an essential component of the media’s role and a service to our readers and this country, 

We offer space to everyone who has views to express; limited only by the boundaries of taste and legality.

We have always invited people to make use of this forum to express their points of view.

And when the press is criticised constructively too, as it was on Saturday, as with all kinds of contributions to public discourse our citizens are the ultimate beneficiaries.

We lament the decline in our public leaders expressing their points of view and we lament the decline of debate in this country. 

To our critics who expound on their views at length, such as Pauli, we say a sincere thank you; and we offer them our sincere thank you and an undertaking that there will always be space for your contributions,

By exploring in an in-depth fashion the other side of a policy debate critics and contributors to debate do a great service to the citizens of this country

Debate stirs Samoa’s democracy; we must not let it peter out.

By The Editorial Board 06 May 2020, 12:33AM
Samoa Observer

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