The nation needs a well-informed public

By The Editorial Board 10 February 2024, 10:00AM

The Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand Vaovasamanaia Winston Peters and Pacific People’s Minister Dr. Shane Reti boarded the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Boeing 757 for the Pacific Mission. They started with Tonga, then the Cook Islands and finally ended the mission in Samoa.

The Boeing 757 seats 200 passengers. Apart from the government contingent, the seats in the plane were also occupied by representatives of New Zealand media. They came in droves, journalists, photographers, and camera operators from almost all media in Aotearoa.

The Kiwi media had the priviledge of accompanying Vaovasamanaia and Dr. Reti to almost all meetings except inside Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa’s office during the bilateral talks, but after that, it was all fair game. They had the opportunity to interview their ministers at arranged times and were even allowed into the State House, where they took pictures.

This is not something new. The Kiwi and Australian leaders have done this for ages. Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese do the same thing. Why? For transparency and accountability. These leaders do not shy away from the hard questions and do not utter fibs when responding to the media. Ms Wong and Mr Albanese have people working for them who transcribe entire interviews and post it on the official web pages of the Australian government.

On the contrary, the news of the Pacific Mission only came to light in Samoa through media reports in New Zealand when the Pacific Mission was announced. There were no announcements until the day before the press conference on Friday. Local media were told they could ask just one question. The Press Secretariat controlled the conference like the Reich. “Both local and international Media will be given chances to ask questions under the guidance of the Government Press Secretariat,” this is what was said in the statement to the media from the Press Secretariat. Do we censor the media in Samoa?

No local media were invited even for pictures at the State House while the New Zealand media were posting pictures of the visit. Is there a difference in how they value media and show a different side to the international media while trying the hard-handed approach to the local media?

The role of the Press Secretariat is to be the agent of information between the government and its people. The media represents the people. The media will ask the hard questions for the people but this does not seem to be the case. There seems to be an attempt to control the media by choosing whichever information they want to release.

There were important trips undertaken by PM Fiame last year, the COP28, the Commonwealth meeting and several others. There was no information relayed to the public until the media dug it out and this was from sources that were not Samoan. Cabinet ministers and people in office choose not to answer questions posed by the media. What is there to hide? Why is there a lack of transparency?

The people of the country deserve answers to situations, policies and incidents that impact them. When there is no transparency shown, there is no accountability. When the public is not given a clear picture, they begin to doubt the actions of the government.

Accountability and transparency are two important elements of good governance. Transparency is a powerful force that, when consistently applied, can help fight corruption, improve governance and promote accountability.

Transparency and accountability are two key elements of a healthy organisational culture. They foster trust, engagement, and performance among employees, leaders, and stakeholders.

Governments are transparent when they enable others to see and understand how they operate honestly. To achieve transparency, a government must provide information about its activities and governance to stakeholders that is accurate, complete, and made available in a timely way.

The relationship between media and government has a profound impact on the information to which the public has access. Historically, governments have relied on the media to communicate with citizens, and stakeholders around the world, ensuring that they receive the information that will shape their day-to-day decisions, from what to buy, where to live, which school to attend, and to issues surrounding their health, safety and political views.

In turn, a strong media assesses this information, analyses and instigates stimulating discussions that ensure a nation’s identity is always evolving positively and insightfully and never stifled. It also helps an economy grow by creating confidence in the market through the dissemination of knowledge that is objective and accurate information, things that form a key foundation for investment decisions.

By stifling the media, freedom of the press is no longer observed and when that happens, people lose their freedom of speech.

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States.

By The Editorial Board 10 February 2024, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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