Engage, support media: United Nations

The United Nations Resident Coordinator has called for the independence of the media in Samoa to be strengthened as the country prepares for another general election.

Speaking during a panel discussion on women and political participation at the Nation University of Samoa on Monday, Dr. Simona Marinescu spoke of the critical role that the media plays during an election period while emphasising the need for more people–media engagement.

"The media in this country like anywhere else plays a critical role to educate the voters,” she told the panel discussion.

“Voters need to learn what exactly is the role of a Member of the Parliament, why they transfer the power they give the mandate to someone in the community to represent them in the Parliament.

“And to understand that the value of the M.P. brings is not during the campaign but is five years being there and promoting development, pushing the Government to do something in the community and to address the needs of the community.”

Making reference to the Government’s launching of its 2040 Plan last Wednesday, Dr. Marinescu said the country has entered a new cycle of planning and such critical chapters in the nation’s history should see more media engagement.

"Now that we enter into the new cycle of planning, that country will have a new Samoa development strategy, four years since we are already in 2021,” she added.

“And the Samoa 2040, the Sectoral Plan, we revise our portfolios, we would like more engagement with the media and provide support for the media.”

The media is the Fourth Estate in any democratic country, according to Dr. Marinescu, who emphasised that a strong and independent media sector is what Samoa needs during a general election period.

"That is the critical education part that the media could help us and other institutions to do it, and unfortunately very little has been done for even this campaign that is so important to the country,” added the U.N. official.

“Why this campaign is very important to the country, we are emerging from a crisis, we are also deep into the procedure of the 2030 agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

“We really need to care who are the new leaders emerging from the elections."

"Media as I mentioned is the fourth pillar in every democratic society by informing the people, creating the right public's opinion, keeps a balance among the three powers, the Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary. 

“So that's why a strong independent media is great for a democratic society.”

The United Nations intends to address the issue of media capacity building, which Dr. Marinescu says is already provided through the UNESCO and the United Nations Development Programme.

"Opportunities of partnerships, opportunities of program training for media in the country abroad so we do have a wide range of initiatives that we would like to bring to Samoa as well," she added.

Meanwhile, former M.P. for Alataua West, Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau has expressed concerns at how male candidates boast about their campaign expenses, saying just the mention of the amounts involved can put off aspiring women politicians.

Speaking during during a panel discussion on women and political participation at the Nation University of Samoa on Monday, she said such conversations become barriers for those who want to contest in a general election.

"Getting into Parliament, where you get mixed in with all these men, the talk you often hear is how much they spent on campaigning and how much they are giving out every week, every month.

“And it sort of encourages you and you sit back and think, wow, did they really have to spend that lot? 

“And it's always that talk round that sphere that I believe discourages some of the very potential women that should've been in Parliament by now.”

While not mentioning any names, the former MP said the amount of money spent on election campaigning according to the men ranged from $200,000 to $300,000.

"When you hear the men talk about money for campaigning, they talk of $200,000 or $300,000 but for me personally, you just need that small financial backing for necessities of what the electoral law office says is the statutory expenses. 

“But as I say there is a lot you can do rather than financially. When you get into Parliament, there are lots of services offered, and that's where you get to understand that a lot of financial assistance is from different donors, different partners, that you can tap on where your village really needs that sort of development. 

“Because when you get there, you have to see what it is that they need, not what the Government can impose on them. 

“You have to get from them what they really need to develop first, and that's the beauty of being in Parliament because you get to understand then where you can get that assistance and also your services.”

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