We got it wrong

We got it wrong.

A story in Monday’s edition about Police physically removing churchgoers for exceeding state of emergency limits on public gatherings did not meet the editorial standards of this newspaper (“Police enforce S.O.E. orders; remove churchgoers”).

We are retracting the story. 

We published denials by the Minister of Police (on Tuesday) and the Priest of the Vaiusu Catholic Church concerned, Father Patolo Matias (on Wednesday), and launched an internal investigation as to how the story (and accompanying photo) bypassed the checks in our editorial processes. 

As we acknowledged earlier this week, the story was illustrated by a photograph that was not taken on the day in question or in Vaiusu, which was not captioned appropriately. It had the effect of misleading our readers.

Subsequent investigations have determined that the story about church goers being removed on the Sunday in question was based on evidence that did not rise to the standard of proof we expect stories in this newspaper to be based on and which did not support its conclusions.

Disciplinary action has been taken against the reporter who wrote that story and we are reviewing the processes that led to its being published.

To the Police; the congregation of the Vaiusu Catholic Church; and its Priest we apologise.

To our readers we say the same and promise to do better in the future.

From the New York Times to the Samoa Observer, making mistakes is part of journalism. 

Within the constraints of deadlines, limited access to timely information and non-responses from officials, mistakes are inevitable and happen worldover.

That does not excuse our failure to meet our readers' expectations. 

And while we cannot promise we will not make a mistake again, we can promise you that we will acknowledge when we do. 

This newspaper will always be open about the criticism it receives. 

But one thing we will not stand for is to allow one error to be used to dismiss other coverage about shortcomings that people in power would rather have never been printed.  

Criticism, though, is not the sole business of this newspaper. 

Since its establishment more than four decades ago, this newspaper has been guided by a maxim of the playwright Arthur Miller’s: “A good newspaper is a society talking to itself”.

That conversation covers all terrain. 

The successful construction and opening of the Vaisigano Bridge, praise for the Government’s eventual but swift response to low measles vaccination rates, or the Human Rights Protection Party’s returning of $200,000 in public election funds are just a few recent examples of Government initiatives that have been praised in this newspaper.

A complete list would more than fill this page.

But another role any independent newspaper worthy of the title has is printing stories with critical aspects. 

One-sided conversations do not serve our readers' interests. 

And, in Samoa, they can readily be found elsewhere. 

State-owned media outlets, be they newspapers, radio and television stations and social media pages dominate this nation’s media landscape. 

The Government’s point of view is eminently accessible and funded by taxpayers' resources. 

For providing a counterpoint to this unitary viewpoint, we will not apologise.

Nor will we stand by and allow the Government to selectively discredit aspects of our reporting which are not to their liking. 

In critical remarks we carried on our frontpage on Friday (“P.M. Tuilaepa attacks Samoa Observer on State-owned media”) the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, attempted to do just that. 

Speaking yet again without fear of being challenged by the state-owned media, Tuilaepa said he has had to correct five stories in this newspaper in the past week. 

The Prime Minister is attempting to perform an old politician’s trick: the bait and switch.

He attacked a series of stories we have written about critical findings made in reports by the Auditor-General and Controller that were tabled before Parliament.

We believe it would be a sincere dereliction of duty not to report on such findings. The public to which Tuilaepa, the Auditor and the agencies which he scrutinises, are ultimately responsible to the public. 

If the Prime Minister or senior bureaucrats have problems with the Auditor’s findings, then their problem ought not to be with a newspaper for reporting them faithfully and excerpting them in full.

The Prime Minister argues that the Audit reports may undergo changes after their being tabled in Parliament.

But we believe that publishing reports by the Auditor, Fuimaono Camillo Afel, a man who has headed the Audit Office for ten years and worked inside it for an additional decade, will always be in the public’s interest.

These reports already afford their subjects a right of reply but if they are seriously altered by the Parliamentary committee process we will be more than happy to report on those too. 

But this is not a Government that has a reputation for the timely release of information. 

Another story, carried last Sunday. about a $200,000 grant provided to political parties upon the dissolution of Parliament - a longstanding practice - was also denied by the Government later this week.

After a statement issued by the Government Press Secretariat, Thursday’s edition carried a story (“H.R.P.P. gives back $200,000) about the party of the Government's decision to return the money because of the current economic downturn.

The Government said it had decided to return the money more than a month ago.

Why the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly did not respond to our request for comment about this story, or the Human Rights Protection Party did not announce this decision when it was made is a question only they can answer - and one they chose not to. 

We can and will admit to our mistakes. We owe as much to our readers.

But for the very same reason, one thing we won’t be doing is taking dictation from the Government or to begin producing our journalism on a timeline that is convenient to them. 

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