The Post, press freedom and Samoa

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 11 January 2018, 12:00AM

The International Press Institute and the Samoa Observer hosted a special screening of The Post at the Apollo Cinemas last night, to promote the value of press freedom in Samoa and around the world. The writer spoke at the event and this is what he said:


Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa 

Cabinet Ministers, 

Members of Parliament,

Chief Justice and Members of the Judiciary,

Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Heads of Government Departments and Private Companies, 

Samoa Observer’s business partners, readers, 

Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the International Press Institute (I.P.I) and the Samoa Observer Newspaper Group, I’d like to welcome you all tonight to this celebration of Press Freedom, and the critical role of the free media in our lives.

In this day and age, issues of media freedom and how far such freedom can be stretched are sensitive matters, especially given the added dynamic of social media and how that is changing the fragmented media landscape.

Tonight we are not here to discuss social media and new types of media.

We are here for the premier of a Steven Spielberg film called “The Post” which is about the core principles of journalism and the impact it can have when the media is allowed to perform its role in a democracy.

Set in the 1970s, The Post which features stars such as Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, is a movie that chronicles The Washington Post’s historic struggle to get its hands on, and then publish -- against the wishes of President Nixon and the White House -- the findings of what have become known as Pentagon Papers. 

For the uninitiated, the papers were filled with, as one columnist recently described, “explosive, innocence-ending stuff.” 

What’s more interesting is that the Papers proved in black-and-white that America’s leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, had been systematically lying to the public for decades, about the scope of the Vietnam War.

I will stop there because I want you to enjoy the rest of the movie and hopefully later you might be able to share your views with us about the story.

You will find in the film that there are a lot of issues, we believe, are very relevant to what is happening in the world – and Samoa to an extent. 

There is the ongoing struggle between a feisty independent newspaper and a very powerful government, there are critical commercial decisions to be made (which many of you in the business community can identify with), the issue of gender equality and the strength of the woman is highlighted, and so much more.  

Tonight, we are here, as part of our role to promote Press freedom and how critical it is in Samoa, to celebrate the work of a very powerful and influential woman, Katharine Graham.

Ms. Graham was the Publisher of The Washington Post at a crucial time in its history, when it unveiled the Watergate scandal, which ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. This story has been well told and we will not go into any further details.

So what does this have to do with Samoa and what we are doing here?

Let me finish with a little story I believe is relevant to our gathering. 

While all that was happening during the Nixon era, just down the road from The Washington Post Office, was a small bookshop called, The Globe Books, where a young man from Samoa, Sano Malifa, was working.

Mr. Malifa was so inspired by the events from that time; he returned to Samoa eight years later and started the Samoa Observer.

Through hard work and by the grace of God, the Samoa Observer is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year. 

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, is part of the build up to our official celebration, which will be held later this year.

Now they talk about life and events coming around full circle. 

After his own tears, blood and struggles with issues of Press Freedom in Samoa, in year 2000, Savea Sano Malifa returned to Boston, U.S.A. Accompanied by the Publisher, Muliaga Jean Ash, Savea was honoured as one of fifty I.P.I. World Press Freedom Heroes. 

He shared the same honour and the same stage with, Katharine Graham. 

The Bible tell us that the “steps of a righteous man are ordered by God.” 

I think, God, in all his wisdom and sovereignty, has a great sense of humour. Here is a Samoan from a tiny dot in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, being in Washington DC in the 70s. 

He could have been anywhere else and yet there he was, strategically placed by God Almighty, just a few blocks down the road from the Office of the Washington Post, where Katharine Graham was making decisions, similar to what Gatoaitele Savea would later be making in Samoa, in his own journey. 

The rest, as they say, is history. 

Tonight also, speaking from Vienna, Austria, is Barbara Trionfi, the Executive Director of the International Press Institute (IPI).  

The I.P.I is a global organisation dedicated to the promotion and protection of press freedom and improving journalistic practices. Founded in 1950, the I.P.I. has members in over 120 countries. Samoa is a member of the I.P.I. and the only Pacific country in the organization.

Ms. Trionfi will highlight for us the value of accurate, fair and diverse journalistic sources in order to be able to develop informed opinions and allow people to make informed decisions.

On that note, please fill your glass, and join me to celebrate the critical role of Press Freedom in our lives. Let’s also pay tribute to the work of Katharine Graham and our very own, Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa.

Have a wonderful evening, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 11 January 2018, 12:00AM
Samoa Observer

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