Addressing misconceptions – the power of the media

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 29 November 2017, 12:00AM

The writer was invited to speak as a Panelist for the Youth and Family Violence Court Partnership with U.N.I.C.E.F. Conference at Tanoa Tusitala Hotel yesterday.  The theme of the conference is “Empowering the Family Unit to stop violence.” This is what he said:

Greetings. I’m honoured to have been asked to say a few words for the purpose of this gathering this afternoon.

The scourge of violence in all levels of society has become one of the biggest challenges of our time. Not a day goes by without people being hurt, especially vulnerable women and children, as this vicious cycle continues unabated. In some cases, people have been killed and innocent lives are wasted. The pain and suffering is immeasurable.

Standing before you today, I share the belief with you all that it is imperative everyone in the community, including the media, must come together to do their part to find workable solutions.

I want to acknowledge U.N.I.C.E.F., U.N. Women and the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration for the invitation. Thanks to media coverage already provided since this forum started on Monday, I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the quality of presentations and opinions expressed and discussed in this room.

We should never overlook the importance of bringing these rather ugly issues to the fore so we can begin to address them for the betterment of the community we live in. 

The first step towards finding a solution is acknowledging that we have a problem. The mere fact we are gathering here is yet another acknowledgement and a reminder about the pressing nature of the issue at hand. Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot sit by and do nothing.

With that said, I admit that the invitation letter was not very clear on what exactly I am supposed to talk about. On the programme however, I note that it has “Addressing Misconceptions – The power of the Media” as the sub-heading. 

With your permission, allow me to quickly highlight some of the most common misconceptions about violence and the media I believe are relevant to us today. There are many misconceptions but with respect to time, I will only focus on seven: 

Media is a powerful tool

This is true to an extent but it needs to be qualified. Without quality content and credibility, the media has no power. Anyone can start a propaganda machine. 

But power comes through the credibility of a media group to build quality content by being an independent watchdog and continuing to do what it is supposed to do, which is asking the hard questions and reporting them accurately and responsibly. 

The media is only powerful when its audience believes and trusts the content. In other words, the media cannot be powerful without the right information and accurate sources.

It goes without saying therefore that when sources and information dry up, the media becomes powerless. This is why it is vital that lawmakers and legislators design laws to empower the media, not to cripple it.

The more awareness the better

This is also true to an extent but we have to be very, very careful. 

There is a danger when we overdo some things. In Economics, I believe it is referred to as the ‘law of diminishing returns.’ It puts people off. 

As a Samoan, we have a very short attention span. We can like something instantly and just as quickly we can easily get turned off. So we need the awareness raising part of our work to be sharp, catchy and meaningful.

When it comes to covering violence – domestic or otherwise - we have to be extra careful that the victims are not victimized twice. This calls for sensitivity and care – which is not always exercised – against the pressures of deadlines and commercial gains.

Media is to blame for the violence 

This point has been well debated all over the world. But let me just say this. The decision for anyone to be violent is made within a person by the person determined by their circumstances.

The media does not make that for them. If a boy grew up in a violent home and a dysfunctional family, it is highly unlikely that a violent image or a movie will change that. 

Which means if we need to change attitudes, we need to deal with the circumstances first. We need to make the home non-violent and work on getting the family unit to function properly.

It is only then we can change a person.

Media is the enemy

The media does exist to get you. Think of us as a friend. If you are a public figure, the equation is quite simple: do what you are supposed to do within the confines of the law and you will not be affected at all. 

Keep in mind that the media is not just for the bad stuff, there are plenty of open pages for the wonderful positive work that is being done by all members of the community.

Which is something that is highlighted every day on the pages of the Samoa Observer newspapers.

Media knows everything

This is wrong. We don’t know everything. 

While we have pretty good idea about what happens here, from time to time we need people to tell us what is happening.

We are not little flies on the wall and we cannot be everywhere all the time. So please work with us, we need you just as you need us. This is a two-way street.

We are only in it to sell newspapers

We are a business yes but first and foremost we are Samoans who care about the community. We are a part of this country and we want it to prosper and grow just like everybody who has a heart for Samoa.

The truth is that if our existence as a business depended on the amount of newspaper copies we sell, we would have been out of business many years ago. Don’t ask me to explain.

Our work is done when the awareness is raised

This is wrong. Addressing the how question is more important. 

When it comes to violence, how do we take it to the next level after the awareness is raised? How do we translate awareness into tangible outcomes?

How do we relate the message and apply it on a day-to-day basis?

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe this is the biggest challenge before you today.

During the past few days, you would have heard many wonderful presentations and messages. 

But how do we then apply that to the people who need it the most? How do we take it out to the villages, churches and into the families where the reality of what we are talking about takes place? 

On that note, I’d like to acknowledge the hard work of the Ministry of Justice, Courts and Administration, Judges, lawyers and everyone involved in this meeting to try and create a better Samoa for the future.

I wish you all the best for the remainder of your conference, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 29 November 2017, 12:00AM

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