Human rights and the beauty of freedom, different views, opinions

The writer was invited by UNESCO to speak as one of the panelists during the celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights last night. Other speakers included Acting Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma and UNESCO Director and Representative to the Pacific State, Ms. Nisha. This is what Mata’afa said:


Talofa lava and greetings to you all. On behalf of our Editor-in-Chief, Gatoaitele Savea Sano and Publisher, Muliaga Jean Malifa, who are not able to be here tonight, I want to say it’s an honour for me to be here to share a couple of thoughts on the celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I promise to be brief so I’ll get to right to it. As a media representative, I want to focus my short spill on the “Right to freedom of opinion and expression,” why an independent feisty media is important, and some of the challenges we are facing today. 

Let me begin by saying that the pursuit of quality journalism, the type that makes a difference is not easy, but it is absolutely necessary. In fact if there was ever a time in history—where this kind of journalism is needed—not just in the world but also in Samoa, it is now. People have a fundamental human right to be informed. 

Why? There are many reasons, depending on which part of the world you are in or are from. Here in Samoa, the former Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, gives us one reason. During his congratulatory message to the Samoa Observer on her 40th birthday this year, Tui Atua wrote:

 “Today Samoa is at a cross-road in her history. It is faced with a new colonialism that I see to be more dangerous than that faced by our constitutional forefathers. The forces controlling this new colonialism is beyond the reach of the average or ordinary Samoan. 

 “It is camouflaged and lives insidiously from both outside and within ourselves. As a spiritual people, we must pay attention to how this new colonialism attacks all that is sacred. In the neo-colonial space nothing is holy, especially that labelled ‘customary’ or ‘traditional’, nor even it seems the rule of law.”

The point is that in light of these recent developments, we believe an objective media driven by critical thinkers is vital. It cannot be business as usual. We need to be asking the right questions so that our audiences are adequately informed.

It goes without saying that when the media’s objectivity is removed and stunted, it loses its power to make a difference. Which is why constructive critical thinking is absolutely necessary. 

Here is the most important thing. People deserve to know the truth. They deserve to be told the truth. It goes without saying that a free press means free people.

But there is another interesting element to freedom of opinion we are seeing in this day and age. Let me say this, freedom of expression is one thing, abusing people and making unfounded allegations under the guise of freedom of expression, especially when the writer is faceless, is something else. 

Let’s not confuse the two please. 

They are worlds apart and they must never be muddled together. Whereas freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, which allows people to speak their mind freely and access information, so they can hold the powers that be to account—the latter is damaging and must never be tolerated. 

We say this because it destroys innocent people, families, communities, countries and eventually makes a mockery of the very freedom our forebears shed their blood and tears over so we can live and enjoy such fantastic freedom today.

This evening, I want to remind all of us here that without free speech and a right to believe and express an opinion, democracy will wither and die. It’s that simple. 

That said, we must be reminded that freedom comes with boundaries and responsibility. It must always be governed by rules and laws, which protect and guard people, who are vulnerable to being hurt and abused by that very freedom.

Sad to say, some of what we have witnessed online in Samoa today, is nothing but malicious and extremely vengeful. We don’t need to tell you anymore about the Government-driven manhunt for certain online bloggers in Samoa today. It is still continuing.

From our standpoint, it’s an eye opener in terms of just how little we know about the power of the internet. The irony is that here we have a Government espousing the need to have faster internet connection with multiple benefits, and yet on the other hand it is slowly finding out, just how much of a monster we are creating. 

It was only recently that Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi threatened to block off Facebook in Samoa altogether. Tuilaepa’s Government is powerful enough to be able to do that. But will it solve the problem of abuse and misuse of the internet and freedom of expression? 

The answer is no. The abusers will simply move on to another platform. This is the reality of today. 

Getting back to freedom of expression and the traditional media, the basic guide to free speech is that if you have an opinion—especially one where you are accusing someone else—you should be brave enough to put your face and your name with it. That’s what responsible people do. 

And this is what this newspaper encourages. In fact it is what we do through the editorial section of your newspaper every day of the week. We know some people agree with us, some don’t and others will absolutely hate us for it. 

But that is the beauty of the freedom of different views and opinions. It allows us to agree to disagree. After all, it’s the variety and the quality of different opinions that enriches and enhances human lives. 

It allows us to grow as a people, a nation and it helps us become better.

On that note, I want to say congratulations once more to everyone involved in tonight’s celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I leave you with a line from the statement issued by UNESCO and OHCHR, published in the Sunday Samoan. 

It reads: “The power of the Universal Declaration is the power of ideas to change the world. It inspires people to continue working to ensure all people can gain freedom, equality and dignity.  At its 70th anniversary, let us take the chance to celebrate the gift of the Universal Declaration and to reaffirm the enduring human rights principles and standards it has helped establish.” 

God bless!

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