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Media to benefit from freedom-of-information laws: M.C.I.T. chief

The private news media and academic researchers can expect to benefit from the proposed Access to Information Policy and Freedom of Information Act (F.O.I.) currently being formulated by the Government.

Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (M.C.I.T.) Chief Executive Officer, Fualau Talatalaga Mata'u Matafeo, told the Samoa Observer he is “sure” that the proposed Act will entail policies for the use of private news media.

“I am sure but the work has yet to begin,” Fualau said in response to questions from the Observer.

The creation of Samoa’s proposed Freedom of Information Act will start with M.C.I.T. using technical assistance provided by the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

“We are starting off to engage a T.A. to work together with the ministry to prepare the policy or process…to inform the legislation,” Fualau said.

A policy document must be created to include “what really needs to be in the Act,” he added.

M.C.I.T. has only started working on the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the proposed Act in order to gauge the market to identify who can carry out the work, Fualau explained.

“Hopefully that policy formulation and development will bring on board a lot of views and expressions from our private sector and our media,” he said.

Just like any other policy, he said, they will “engage the views of the relevant parties and those that will be affected.”

The policy needs to be “holistic,” Fualau added, taking into consideration a wide spectrum of views in the country from the public, the Government, the private sector and the media.

“It’s a whole lot of things we need to look,” he said, adding that M.C.I.T. will have to look at the current laws in formulating the proposed Freedom of Information Act.

“We have to look at current legislation if there is any existing laws that we can strengthen or needs to be reviewed so we can carry out this work.”

Academic researchers, said Fualau, will also benefit from the proposed legislation.

UNESCO will be providing technical assistance to M.C.I.T. through the India-UN Development Partnership Fund supported programme, Samoa Knowledge Society Initiative.

The Knowledge Society is a rights-based initiative that acknowledges the right to access information for all Samoans, in order to create an enabling environment for enhanced digital development, explains the society’s official website. 

The proposed legislation came out from the Ministry's work to establish the Knowledge Society, which is an online portal that stores research, government policies, plans, “everything" to make information accessible to the various sectors, said Fualau.

Everyone will be able to access the portal…information will be released to the parties, whether it’s government or private or any scholarly materials…this is why we need the policy…to allow information-sharing to the public,” he said.

The Freedom of Information Act will enable the online portal to be a “one-stop shop” for people to access and retrieve “all the information that must be made available to the public at anytime and anywhere,” Fualau said.

“But at the same time, to protect…privacy and confidentiality,” he told the Observer.

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