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Journalists stress media's crucial role

The Journalists Association of (Western) Samoa says the media has a vital social role that should not be obstructed by authorities including the Police. 

J.A.W.S. President Rudy Bartley made the call in response to an incident this week in Tiapapata where a family did not want the media to write about a tragic incident that resulted in the death of family members. 

The media were stationed on public property on the main road but the family insisted they leave. The incident escalated to where the media were sworn at, in the presence of the Police, who did not take any action.

“When it is a matter of public interest, the public has the right to know what is happening and that is the only reason they are there in the first place," Bartley said.

He said Police needed to work together with the media, especially in times of tragic incidents in order to release accurate public information. 

“While the media understand the grief when it comes to tragic accidents, at the same time, we have a job to fulfil. And if the media is on public property, no one can remove them from the area," Bartley added. 

“And in saying that, the media also have to respect the privacy of the family. 

He expressed concerns the Police did not assist the media by protecting them from abuse and ensuring their right to remain on public property. According to the J.A.W.S. President, the media has a code of ethics they must uphold.   

“First of all, the law should be implemented at all times and it applies to everyone; the media needs to work together with the Police," Bartley said. 

"They are there to do their job, and the media is doing the same. 

“We don’t interfere with the Police while they carry out their duties. All we do is stand by on the sideline and see firsthand what is actually happening.  Sadly the media has been labelled as faikakala (nosy) and the Police officers look at us as a threat." 

He further noted this issue was raised directly with the Commissioner of Police, Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil, in writing however there has been no response. Repeated efforts to get comments from the Commissioner have been unsuccessful as of press time. 

Bartley emphasised that understanding and working together with the media yields far better results for an agency than actively resisting them. 

Meanwhile, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia, Samoa's representative for the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (P.A.C.M.A.S.), which promotes journalistic standards across the region, has backed the concerns raised by the J.A.W.S. 

“In our Code of Ethics we must be respectful and sympathetic when approaching people in situations of shock and grief for example deaths," Autagavaia said. 

“As a human, we know that when it comes to tragic accidents and there is a loss of life, families first reaction is protection mode and [they naturally] don’t want the incident to be reported. 

"At the same time, we have to respect the privacy of these people and but we have to consider what is happening. The grief the family is facing [is understandable] but it does not stop us from reporting what has occurred."

The veteran journalist said Police should prepare information for the media to report. 

Autagavaia said the P.A.C.M.A.S. will be working with Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration as well as the Ministry of Police to this end. 

“This project [has been] delayed due to the pandemic, but it will bring together the M.J.C.A. and the Police under one roof to discuss in ways they can work together and how can come to an understanding. 

"This is in relation to court coverage and the Police when the media are out in the field. 

“At times we are being harassed inside the court, by the police and that is because it’s the lack of knowledge by the police on the role of the media. The aim of this project will iron out issues and come to an agreement to have a smooth transition.” 

Autagavaia concluded by saying that the media is an essential part of a democratic government. 

“We play an important role especially right now considering what is happening around the world," he said. 

“The media plays an outstanding role in creating and shaping of public opinion and strengthening of society, after all, we are the sword arm of democracy. 

“We act as a watchdog to protect public interest against malpractice and create public awareness."

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