Govt. tightly controlling emergency information: TV1 Editor

The News Manager and News Editor for broadcaster TV1 Samoa, Renee Kahukura-Iosefa, says the Government has blocked journalists’ ability to ask questions and gather information during the state of emergency. 

Ms Kahukura-Iosefa made the comments during a question and answer session with Agafili Shem Leo, the Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) for the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet (M.P.M.C.) and Ulu Bismarck Crawley, Chairman of the National Emergency Operations Center (N.E.O.C.).

Agafili spoke on the final day of the COVID-19 P.A.C.M.A.S. Awareness Workshop at the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel in Sogi. The three-day conference was dedicated to training journalists in covering the coronavirus. 

His presentation was followed by a question and answer session with editors and journalists from Samoa’s media organizations.

Ms. Kahukura-Iosefa began her contribution by thanking the Government for its hard work.

“Samoa is still COVID-19 free and this is because of all the hard work that you have been doing behind the scenes so thank you very much for that,” she said.

“In regard to our work that we do as news media – as journalists, a key function of our job is to be able to ask questions – to be objective and to be able to ask questions.

“If I am being absolutely honest, it’s a real struggle to try and ask questions here in this country. We’ve been in lockdown since March and just the other day was the first opportunity that we all had as journalists to actually have the Minister of Health in our presence and to have the Director-General in our presence…I thank the organizers for organizing this and for all of you as well for being here and to front up to us as the media.”

The three-day workshop was funded by the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (P.A.C.M.A.S.) and supported by ABC News in Australia and Australia Aid.

“This is going to be so beneficial for us in going forward and it’s something that we all needed because as a News Manager who has to produce news for the TV, for the radio and for online it’s a struggle and if I am going to be absolutely honest, it’s a struggle when you send your reporters out – ‘go and get this story, we need to inform the people’,” Ms Kahukura-Iosefa said.

The usual responses her reporters receive are: “Oh, he said no” and “She said no.”

“We have so many blocks. We understand that time is of the essence and there are processes but I just want to say that in the role and responsibility that I have everyday – I just want to say that we are here and our job is to ask questions. 

“I think in going forward, if we take anything from this, we need to have that opportunity.”

 Ms Kahukura-Iosefa said dissemination of information from the Samoa government “is very controlled.”

“To be honest, it’s very controlled. All the questions we send are screened. We can’t ask straight up questions. And I’ll just use New Zealand as an example because time is of the essence," she said. 

But Agafili stopped Ms Kahukura-Iosefa to defend the Government’s availability for questioning by saying: “We are in an emergency state.”

“These are not normal times,” he said. 

“These are abnormal times…there is a process that we follow. We ask for your questions and if the questions are relayed to [N.E.O.C.], for example the chairman, the Ministry of Health and if you have been following the Prime Minister’s interviews every week, which if you are from TV1 – TV1 has that privilege every week – the Prime Minister talks about the S.O.E. orders or the changes in the S.O.E. orders every week” Agafili said.

“That is another platform. We give press releases. You mentioned New Zealand. As I mentioned in my presentation this morning, this is not New Zealand; this is Samoa. We are hearing what you are saying and we are also being very mindful of the essence of your job.” 

Agafili said for specialised information from the Ministry of Health, the M.P.M.C. wants "to make sure that those experts have the opportunity to respond because no one else can.”

“Even if it means that we are going to wait for them to come back to us because the role of Nanai Laveitiga Tuiletufuga there and the Press and Communications Division (P.C.D.) is to keep on following up with our experts,” Agafili said.

“No one can answer a question on health except for a doctor. Those are the dynamics of these issues that we also need to take into account. An answer cannot simply be an answer. It has to be an accurate answer – and Samoa deserves that. Be mindful of that.”

Ms Kahukura-Iosefa asked what changes will be made by the M.P.M.C. to ensure greater transparency and availability of Government officials for questioning by journalists. 

“I think the most important question to ask in going forward is: What’s going to be put in place where journalists can actually be objective and ask questions?,” she said.

The N.E.O.C. Chairman, Ulu, said the three-day workshop  had been a very important chance for dialogue about the state of emergency and said that the media must standardise its ethics and identify its morals.

He said there must be more opportunities for dialogue between the media and government.

“This pandemic is a new experience for everyone,” said Ulu.

More than 10 media organizations completed the three-day workshop and were certified in reporting on COVID-19. .

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