A free press means free people

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 24 August 2018, 12:00AM

The commemoration of the Samoa Observer News Group’s 40th birthday this weekend is a timely reminder about the importance of press freedom. 

It goes without saying that without press freedom, it would be impossible for a newspaper like the Samoa Observer to operate, and do so with liberty to ask questions of the leaders our readers want answered.

That said, when it comes to the freedom of the media to do its work, we believe there is much to be celebrated in Samoa. True that such freedom is not absolute but that’s life.

But it’s fair to say we are a lot freer than some of the countries near and far.

Indeed, while things are not perfect – and probably never will be – the idea that we can confidently talk about press freedom in a peaceful and politically stable environment are achievements to be proud of.

We say this because in some parts of the world where freedom of speech and expression are stifled and trampled upon, the term press freedom is a foreign concept. What happens instead is that there is so much oppression and unimaginable suffering that citizens know nothing more than pain and sorrow.

In Samoa, however, we’d like to believe that freedom of the press is respected by everyone – including the Government. In yesterday’s edition of your newspaper, it was heartwarming to note all the well wishes all the way from leaders to the average Samoan and how much they appreciate the work that has been done over the years.

The words of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi come to mind immediately. In paying tribute to the Samoa Observer’s commitment to press freedom, Tuilaepa said: “In any Government, the need for a newspaper such as the Samoa Observer is critical, a newspaper that is not timid. They report what they see and interpret it the way they see it. We know it hasn’t been easy.”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa is correct. 

The pursuit for quality journalism, the type that makes a difference is not easy. But it is absolutely necessary. In fact if there was ever a time in history where this kind of journalism is needed, it is now.

The point was made by the Deputy Director of the International Press Institute (I.P.I.), Scott Griffen, who is in Samoa for the Samoa Observer’s celebration.

 “At this time, press freedom could never be more important. It is always important and always will be important. There are a lot of challenges right now in every part of the world with press freedom,” he said. 

“There’s backlash, if you want, in many countries including the ones where we take press freedom for granted, like the United States, for example.”

He added that press freedom is under siege in different parts of the world and it is very important to continue the fight to protect it. 

“We are losing some good examples of press freedom so it is still important to keep fighting for press freedom everywhere in the world, including here in Samoa to Europe and I.P.I. wants to support those efforts wherever it can.” 

Well that’s good to know.

But why is press freedom important? Why do we need a feisty independent newspaper and journalists to do their work? In Samoa?

Former Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, gives us a reason. In his congratulatory message, Tui Atua hit the nail on the head, answering the question of why we need a free independent media.

“Today Samoa is at a cross-road in her history,” Tui Atua wrote. 

“It is faced with a new colonialism that I see to be more dangerous than that faced by our constitutional forefathers. The forces controlling this new colonialism is beyond the reach of the average or ordinary Samoan. 

“It is camouflaged and lives insidiously from both outside and within ourselves. Those probing articles published by the Observer that have unpacked this new colonialism are critical to our education on how best to identify it, understand it and deal with it. The Observer has not shied away from publishing these kinds of articles and for this they should be supported and commended. Such articles are a must for all democratic societies.

“As a spiritual people we must pay attention to how this new colonialism attacks all that is sacred. In the neo-colonial space nothing is holy, especially that labelled ‘customary’ or ‘traditional’, nor even it seems the rule of law.

“As a spiritual people we must pay attention to how this new colonialism attacks all that is sacred. In the neo-colonial space nothing is holy, especially that labelled ‘customary’ or ‘traditional’, nor even it seems the rule of law. 

“As Savea passionately reasoned in an article to the Pacific Journalism Review, even the rule of law has become subservient to the biases of those in power. When only one political party controls the making of laws, it is only a short step away from them also controlling the interpreting and enforcement of those laws.”

The point is that in light of these recent developments in the social, economic, spiritual and political sphere of this paradise we call home, we believe an objective media driven by critical thinkers is vital.

It goes without saying that when the media’s objectivity is removed and stunted, it loses its power to make a difference. Which is why constructive critical thinking is absolutely necessary. 

It goes without saying that a free press means free people.

Have a wonderful weekend Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 24 August 2018, 12:00AM

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