New Coroners Act highlight lack of communication between four pillars

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi 20 June 2018, 12:00AM

New provisions in the Samoa Coroners Act 2017 seek to re-address and regulate the reporting of suicide but lacks input from the relevant parties affected.

During last week’s Coroners Continuing Education workshop, New Zealand Coroner Gordon Matenga questioned whether Samoa media were complying with the new Coroners Act 2017. 

The Act restricts the publication of the details in self-inflicted death without the prior approval of a Coroner. It also further states that the only details that can be made public after the approval of a coroner is that the coroner has found the death to be self-inflicted as well as the name, address, and occupation of the person concerned.

As an example, Mr. Matenga referred to an article published in the Samoa Observer on Friday 15 June with the headline “Former lecturer Gounder dies”. Mr. Matenga invited members of the judiciary and the media to comment on whether the Samoa Observer was in breach with the Coroners Act 2017.

“It says here that ‘the Samoa Observer understands that his death was among three suicide cases reported by the Police during the weekend’,” read Mr. Matenga. “So the question is, on that one sentence, do you think that is in contradiction of this Section 33?”

“A person must without the prior approval of the Coroner make public any detail in which the death occurred, my only issue is - is it a detail? And it saying that they identified the person and suggested that it was a suicide suggests to me that yes, it is a detail so I agree that it is a contradiction of this Section 33.”

Samoa Correspondent for Radio New Zealand, Tipi Autagavaia explained to Mr. Gordan the long time process of how the media receive information regarding suicides and deaths in Samoa showing that neither the Police nor the media are aware of this new law.

“That particular line in today’s (Friday) paper is referring to a Police press release from the day before,” said Mr. Autagavaia. “The normal practice we have here in Samoa when we report suspected suicide cases in Samoa, it comes from the Police first and then to the media and then we report on what the Police is telling us instead of going through the process like you said, which is going through the coroners first.”

Mr. Matenga was not aware that this was the case in Samoa. Contacted for a comment about the new developments of the Coroners Act 2017, the President of the Journalism Association of Western Samoa (J.A.W.S.) Rudy Bartley was also not aware of the new Act.

He said the new powers of the coroner to prohibit the release of information is new to him but in general, the media code of practice in Samoa already has guidelines on the issue of suicide and reporting on it.  

“The media code of practice does address the issue of suicide and reporting on it. Identifying the person and how the act was committed is not permitted.  And if there is a story, there should always be a statement at the end to contact a medical/suicide prevention agency like Faataua le Ola for people needing help in relation to this issue.”

The Samoa media code of practice states that when reporting on suicide, media must “verify with an appropriate authority such as Police, National Health Services or the coroner that suicide was the cause of death and always cite the relevant authority in news coverage.”

The code goes on to dictate that reporting details of the event, including the means by which death occurred and explicit images of the event are prohibited.

Mr. Bartley pointed out that this was an example of a breakdown of communication between law makers and the people they affect.

“There still seems to be a disconnect with government making laws without proper consultation from the media. If they had known about our code of practice, they may not have included as much detail as it is already in our code.

“Now they seek input when it’s already written and ready to go to Parliament. When the media does not become part of the process, this leads to miscommunication and creates problems/difficulties for everyone.”

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi 20 June 2018, 12:00AM

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