Responsibility the price of freedom: Media union
The Journalists Association of Western Samoa [J.A.W.S.] has issued a stern warning about reporting sensibly in a free media environment, following recent criticisms of broadcast material.
The President of J.A.W.S., Rudy Bartley, spoke following concerns raised by members of the public and media practitioners regarding a religious broadcast by a leader of the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church, who criticised other religious bodies.
The programme aired on TV1 but on Thursday the network issued an apology for having aired the material and promised to discontinue the broadcast.
“The J.A.W.S. would like to appeal to the media to use the code [of practice] to help them in making decisions which they are unsure of, however, at the same time use their common sense,” Bartley said.
“The code covers many of these issues of freedom of speech and expression, but people should know and understand that with such freedoms come responsibilities and limitations not to harm anyone or incite violence.”
The J.A.W.S. President shared the same concern that members of the public and other church leaders had about the S.I.S.D.A.C. leader and his attacks targeting other religions.
“The language used by the preacher and [broadcast] on national TV, in our opinion, will and has caused disharmony amongst our peaceful nation that is founded on God," said Mr Bartley.
“It is not our intention to suppress the freedom of expression of the preacher and his freedom to religion enjoyed by many under Samoa’s Constitution.
“However, such fundamental freedom should be exercised with caution and responsibility so that it does not encroach on other religious beliefs and cause unrest to our community”.
On Wednesday, J.A.W.S. wrote to TV1 to express their concerns and requested that they consider the content of this program to ensure it goes in line with principles of good taste and without malice.
“And more importantly, to avert any escalation of religious disharmony and public discontent,” the Association said in a letter.
“The Media Council has been copied in on our letter and they will advise J.A.W.S. executives in due time of their response.”
Mr Bartley said that in 2015 Parliament enacted the Media Council Act, with the primary purpose of promoting the values of professionalism in journalism in a fast-changing media environment. Its remit includes encouraging the self-regulation of advertising.
“The Act established the Media Council with membership drawn from media practitioners and the general community,” he said.
“It also gave legal recognition to the J.A.W.S. as both a body representing its members and one to provide administrative support to the Council.
“A principal responsibility of J.A.W.S. and the Media Council, under the Act, is to develop, apply and enforce a Code of Practice that applies to all members of the media operating in Samoa. The Code represents an attempt to balance the concepts of media freedom and responsibility."
Furthermore J.A.W.S. noted the Act and the Code of Practice apply not just to mainstream or ‘professional’ news media and not just to professional journalists or individuals who receive payment for their journalism.
It covers all those who create content that may reasonably be considered to be news or news commentary.
“We thank TV1 for coming forward with their apology and hope other media will learn from this incident,” Mr Bartley said.
“In moving forward, we hope to run seminars for all media on how to use the code and discuss ways to improve on it.”
The issue of the broadcast was also debated in Parliament with Members of Parliament, including the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi expressing disappointment over the religious broadcast.
On Wednesday in Parliament, the Prime Minister ordered the Attorney General’s office to initiate a "libel and criminal probe" against the leader of the S.I.S.D.A.C. and TV1.