Time for embarrassed H.R.P.P. to move on

By The Editorial Board 04 November 2021, 9:33PM

One of the great politicians of the last Century, Sir Winston Churchill, would often counsel less experienced colleagues, easily moved by critical coverage, to keep their chins up and mouths shut.

“Politicians complaining about the newspapers,” he said. “is like a sailor complaining about the sea.”

Media coverage, let alone the added pressure of factual coverage that could be possibly critical, praiseful or neutral depending on how a public event goes, is a simple fact of life in a democratic nation with a right to a free press.

Just as the sun will come up tomorrow so too will the print mills at the Samoa Observer begin to whirr and release the next day’s edition. 

Aspirant candidates who gnash their teeth and complain about one of life’s certainties - something over which they have no power to control - only waste their energy.

Extraordinary scenes such as those seen on Wednesday provide us with an insight into the character of those who rage against this rule, one which would never have been revealed by 100 community forums.

The Samoa Observer was headed to cover a campaign rally being held before the Sagaga No. 2. by-election.

We did so because that is our job. Just as we have previously covered campaign events held by the Government, this entirely apolitical newspaper was seeking to do just the same at an opposition rally.

Upon arrival, two of our journalists were told by senior Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.). officials that they were free to cover the rally.

Of course, turning them away would have made little sense. The entire event was being broadcast live on social media, so what, in substance, would turning away two journalists achieve?

Shame. 

And so the kicking out of two our journalists by Maulolo Tavita Amosa was choreographed to achieve that maximal end. 

The crowd assembled at Afega Primary School had already begun their warm up event of singing and dancing, when Maulolo came on stage to a sudden halt.

Maulolo stood up to make an announcement: that the village of Afega had agreed that the Samoa Observer newspaper was "not allowed" to cover the meeting.   

"The village has agreed that the Samoa Observer is not allowed here [Afega]," Maulolo said.

We would be interested to speak to members of the village council who were present at this purported ban of the newspaper and ask more about the discussions at this meeting. Were those at Afega, a village with such close associations to our literary tradition, enthusiastic about imposing an enthusiastic media ban on this nation’s only quality daily newspaper? Was this measure widely conveyed throughout the village? 

Let’s leave the authority supporting Maulolo’s decision behind with just one comment: if this is how he chooses to exercise a power that may or may not have been actually decided upon, to what end will he then put the privileges and perks that come with being a Member of Parliament.

As the singing and dancing reached its crescendo, Maulolo stopped it. 

He didn’t seize that moment of momentum to tell a hot crowd ready and receptive for a message about the substance of his campaign and how he might make lives better.

Instead he chose to, for a moment, make the lives of two members of the press corp more embarrassing. 

"I have already chased out the other one [from the Samoa Observer] and yet you are still here,” said Maulolo.

"You should leave now.”

Maulolo had already undermined the perfect opening to a campaign event. One certainly hopes that in the tiny chambers of his mind, the idea of bringing the event to a screeching halt to kick out two young journalists under 30 made more sense than continuing to work with the momentum of the crowd to campaign. 

We are often accused of favouring the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party. We do not.

This newspaper has no truck with either of these parties. If this newspaper were to have a motto it might come from the English poet Alexander Pope:

“In moderation placing all my glory/ While tories call me whig, and whigs a tory.”

Over the past four decades those sour from election losses have sought to blame the media and particularly us, for their own failings at the ballot box. Over time they have run the gamut of claims of bias.

But Wednesday’s event was the latest in a line of media control events by the H.R.P.P. who have sought to stop us from covering their events. If you see any disparity in the coverage of campaign events in this newspaper then blame the party heavies who chase us out.

So hostile has the H.R.P.P. been to our presence at public events since the April election that journalists arriving at the rally on Wednesday checked in advance that there would not be any trouble if they showed up.

That alone shows how far the freedom of the press in Samoa has degraded; to ask permission for a public event.

But Maulolo’s actions were the lowest of the low. Bullying two reporters to leave his public event under the glaring eyes and shame of his hundreds of supporters achieved no practical end but it may have helped him feel momentarily powerful to shine the spotlights on two journalists under 30 and chase them out.

Well to Maulolo and others we have this message: you lost the April election and Government. 

There appear to be two strains of thinking within the party, one of which includes critical coverage by this newspaper in its analysis of its loss. The other prefers moving the focus beyond allocating blame to the party’s perceived enemies instead of asking useful questions such as: What actions did we take while in Government that alienated an unprecedented nearly half of our supporter base?

We counsel, Maulolo, and friends that only the latter approach gives you a chance to grow and learn from April’s election loss.

For our part, we will continue to send reporters to cover events in public places as we have done for 43 years. Whether you treat them with the respect a professional politician should and the common decency a Samoan should is a matter entirely for you. 

By The Editorial Board 04 November 2021, 9:33PM
Samoa Observer

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