Responsible journalism essential during crisis
The constitutional crisis, which has gripped Samoa since the end of the 9 April 2021 general election, is showing no signs of abating as the Human Rights Protection Party-led caretaker Government refuses to concede defeat.
And the country’s media industry has a responsibility to report the facts and ask the hard questions of our leaders, as is expected of us by our readers, viewers and listeners amidst an upheaval that could make or break our democracy.
It is incumbent upon the media to realise that the abrogation of Samoa’s Constitution, which has begun to happen piece-by-piece as the current Tuilaepa regime continues its attack on the Judiciary while defy Supreme Court orders, wouldn’t augur well for press freedom and ultimately basic liberties currently enjoyed by citizens.
In fact from the outset the decision by the caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi and the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II to veto the sitting of the XVII Parliament – in defiance of the Court’s orders and against the plea of the international community led by Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and a number of northern Pacific Island states – continues the two leaders’ strangulation of the country’s democracy while undermining the rule of law.
All the while the facts emanating from the polling in April haven’t changed: the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) won the 2021 general election by a one-seat majority of 26, when Independent M.P. Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio joined the new party, to leave the H.R.P.P. on 25 seats (which has been further reduced to 20 due to successful election petitions against H.R.P.P. Members-elect).
Nevertheless the dominant parties H.R.P.P. and the F.A.S.T. have been traversing the corridors of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal in recent weeks, due to the 42-year-old party’s refusal to implement the Courts’ various rulings.
So how have we in the local media industry fared in terms of our reportage being objective, impartial and neutral while promoting the facts in the face of a spike in propaganda through social media and various other platforms by those refusing to accept the election results in a bid to maintain the status quo?
It is a process that we undertake on a daily basis here at the Samoa Observer, and while we accept that there are times when we fall while delivering on our mandate, we acknowledge our mistakes and get up striving to do better.
Sadly there have been instances of late when colleagues dropped their guard dealing a blow to independent and objective journalism.
For example, the current controversy over comments attributed to the F.A.S.T. Deputy Leader and Gagaifomauga No. 3 Member-elect, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt purportedly promoting sexual violence against women.
Closer analysis of La’auli’s comments shows that the public criticism, which not surprisingly is being led by a band of H.R.P.P. supporters, is far from the truth.
And you dig further and you realise that it was the reporter a local television station, who was interviewing the caretaker Prime Minister at that time, who claimed La’auli was targeting H.R.P.P. women supporters.
View video footage of La’auli’s interview and you notice that the F.A.S.T. deputy leader didn’t make reference to the rival party and its female supporters, when decrying malicious misinformation that his party’s leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and members continue to be subjected to.
So why did the TV station’s reporter choose to include the references to the H.R.P.P. female supporters in her line of questioning when La’auli didn’t mention it?
And then the “banquet style” televised interviews that H.R.P.P. supporters, candidates and Members-elect have been pumping out on various platforms including social media in recent weeks, in an attempt to legitimise the caretaker Government’s illegal occupation of public office amidst the Courts’ orders for the Parliament to convene.
The former Chief Justice Patu Falefatu Sapolu has become a regular commentator on some of those televised shows, and is given free reign by the TV presenter to trample on and rubbish the decisions of his former colleagues on the bench of the Courts.
His defence of the Head of State – despite the Court's ruling last Thursday that the Head of State continues to invoke powers outside of the Constitution – is deplorable for a former senior judicial officer.
And sadly the failure of the TV presenter to control the televised discussion and intervene at crucial moments of the show, when the former Chief Justice criticised the judgements of the Court, adds to the disrespect and loss of public confidence in the Judiciary.
It is obvious the presenter doesn’t have the training nor the experience to effectively moderate televised discussions on national issues, and ultimately it is the viewers who suffer from the delivery of substandard content.
At the end of the day, we in the media owe it to the citizens to deliver news content that is objective, free of bias, has balance and is based on the facts. And a duty to report without fear or favour to keep the population informed on events, issues and the people behind them while chronicling change and bearing witness to events.
And we have a duty to effect our role as a watchdog of those in power, and to ensure they are held accountable to the Courts and ultimately the Constitution for the benefit of the people.