A.G. threatening press freedom: global journalists

The world's largest union of journalists has called on the Attorney-General to withdraw statements they say restrict press freedom and to let the Samoa Observer continue its work without political interference.

The International Federation of Journalists (I.F.J.) is the largest media union worldwide; it represents more than 600,000 media workers in 146 countries. 

In a statement on Wednesday, the union said it stands in solidarity with reporters at the Samoa Observer, “who are under pressure by the Samoan Government’s attempts to silence press freedoms.” 

“Questioning a government and its actions is a crucial component of a functioning democracy and critical journalism,” the I.F.J. said.

“The I.F.J. expresses solidarity with journalists and their sources in Samoa who are being subject to legal threats and investigations that seek to prevent them from reporting on the truth. 

“The I.F.J. [implores] the Attorney General to [retract] the statements made by her office and allow the Samoa Observer to operate without political interference.”

The organisation’s comments follow two statements released by the Attorney General’s office over the weekend.

The office of the Attorney-General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, and the Assistant Attorney-General, Galumalemana Loretta Teueli, responded to recent articles about what procedures are followed for handling cases. 

As well as responding to some of the unanswered questions put to the Attorney-General, the statements called for a full investigation into how the Samoa Observer obtained confidential information from its office. 

The statements underscore the criminal charges facing those found to have breached an oath of secrecy for staff in their office. Anyone who leaked information, or helped to leak information to this newspaper is liable to be charged with criminal offences, the statement said. 

“Given the number of documents from this Office that has made their way, unlawfully, to Samoa Observer, we advise that our Office will be consulting the Police Commissioner, the Public Service Commission and the Chief Executive Office of the [Ministry of National Resources and Environment] regarding opening a full investigation into how confidential documents from this Office have made their way to the Samoa Observer,” the statement says.

The statements conclude that the Samoa Observer could have only obtained the documents through hacking. The statement also accused this newspaper of sensationalism and reporting inaccurately, saying the “level of journalism is quite concerning”.

“The lack of attention to detail demonstrates the calibre of Samoa Observer’s source, and their intentions; and Samoa Observer’s inability to vet not only their sources but their motives,” the statements read. 

The statements also accuse a Samoa Observer reporter of perpetrating “character assassination” against the Attorney-General:

“It makes perfect sense considering the sensationalized conclusions and assertions made (sic) Samoa Observer in many articles about this Office. While the reporting maybe (sic) questionable, at least you are consistent with inaccurate and sensationalized reporting.”

On Tuesday, the Pacific Freedom Forum, a regional watchdog for press freedom, said the Attorney-General’s comments were petty and unexpected from a person in such an office.

“I haven’t seen such blatant disrespect for a journalist like that,” the forum’s Coordinator, Leanne Jorari, said.               

“There shouldn’t be any undermining of the character of the journalists or the reputation of the newspaper. That was completely uncalled for and it’s quite, for lack of a better word, petty.

“That such catty dialogue would come from the respected office of the Attorney General, […] it feels like she will use her position of power and her friends in high places to put that muzzle on journalists in the Samoa Observer.”

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