A politician's blooper confirms a party's disdain

It is tragic pertinent issues raising during a recent interview on Samoa’s constitutional crisis, between Australian-based Samoan broadcaster Pulotu Canada McCarthy and the Human Rights Protection Party Deputy Leader Fonotoe Pierre Luaofo, were overshadowed by a blooper by the politician.

The crisis has been running for over two months with no end in sight, frustrating voters and members of the public alike, with many in recent weeks accessing multiple mainstream media and social media platforms for news and commentary that attempts to rationalise the ongoing deadlock between the leadership of the H.R.P.P. and the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party.

The interview on 9 June 2021 between Pulotu and Fonotoe took a turn for the worse, when the M.P. towards the end was heard saying “oka le fiapoko”, which was picked up by a hot mic and simulcast to many other listeners and viewers who were following the live broadcast at that time. 

The phrase in Samoan translates as “know it all” and it can often be put in the same basket and considered to be insulting, patronising and derogatory to the recipient in the Samoan context. 

It can have negative connotations, such as being used to describe someone conducting himself or herself in a manner that is considered to be beyond their knowledge and experience. 

It probably explains why Pulotu laid a complaint with the Samoa Law Society last week and has even threatened to sue the H.R.P.P. Deputy Leader for defamation, if a public apology from the politician is not forthcoming.

“[There has] still [been] no correspondence from Fonotoe. I just want him to publicly apologise for his defamatory comment,” Pulotu said.

“A public apology from Fonotoe for his defamatory comment would have been good to put a closure on the matter.”

Nonetheless the bottom line is that the use of the phrase by the Deputy H.R.P.P. leader, who is a lawyer by profession and a former Deputy Prime Minister, was totally out of line.

Sadly, it is another example of a member of the former ruling party’s top brass, ridiculing members of the press who are only trying to do their job.

What did Fonotoe hope to achieve for himself and his party by describing Pulotu in that way after an interview on a crisis that is already doing immeasurable damage to Samoa’s image on the international stage?

Was the Deputy H.R.P.P. leader uncomfortable with the discussions on the contentious issue of the sixth woman parliamentarian which saw him end the interview on that low note?

However, we would be kidding ourselves, to assume that the members of one of Samoa’s oldest political parties don’t have a history of sneering at the work of the media over the years.

In fact the reinstatement and enactment of the Criminal Libel Act by the party leader and caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi in 2017 – confirms how the party and their successive Governments continue to view the media industry with disdain – which then manifests itself through different forms including the ridicule and abuse of media workers such as reporters and broadcasters.

Last year Tuilaepa called a Samoa Observer reporter “fat”, when he became incensed with increasing calls for a Commission of Inquiry, into the 83 fatalities from the 2019 measles epidemic. 

Speaking on state-owned media he implied that someone had been putting ideas in Tui Atua’s head:

“I’m assuming [it is] that fat pretty reporter from the Samoa Observer that’s encouraging him,” he said.

The former Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi had been leading calls for an inquiry at that time.

It appears that unwarranted criticism of the media including the Samoa Observer will continue to be a favourite pastime of the political party’s leadership, which purportedly says it “protects the human rights” of all citizens, but from its actions over the years is far from the truth. 

Yes, unfortunately, we will continue to take it from all sides, but we must trudge on to fulfil our calling and the values that this newspaper stands for to keep our readers informed with the latest news and analysis.

And been in this business for so long, we’ve learnt too that when leaders become uncomfortable with the truth, they personalise and trivialise issues and attempt to publicly humiliate media personnel.

But we know their tactics and we hope that the public will see them for who they really are.

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