The essentials of a free press and its link to democracy

By The Editorial Board 03 May 2022, 6:00AM

How do you plan to mark 3 May World Press Freedom Day today and what does it mean for you as a human right? 

For UNESCO every year it marks 3 May by celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom, evaluating press freedom around the world, defending the media from attacks on their independence, and paying tribute to journalists who’ve lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

When you wake up every morning to access the latest news and information through your mobile device – being disseminated every day, every hour and every minute through a plethora of platforms including social media and mainstream media – you are invoking your rights to a free press and access to information.

We all do it every morning with our mobile devices – checking the news and interacting either on mainstream or social media platforms about the content – oblivious to the work behind the scenes to package the news and information to ensure they are factual, objective and have balance before dissemination.

You would probably be correct, if you suggested that a lot of people take press freedom and the independence of the media for granted, due to Samoa having a system of government modelled on a parliamentary democracy with the Judiciary independent and human rights generally respected.

But don’t fall asleep on the job of nation building: it is within your rights to ask questions of the news and information being disseminated by both mainstream media and social media, especially in an age of rampant misinformation and disinformation.

While we acknowledge the challenges that media colleagues and fellow journalists, editors, broadcasters and television crews in authoritarian states around the world face, we must be  vigilant and watch out for any form of censorship here in Samoa, even in the most subtle of forms by those in authority.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the detection of the country’s first community case on 17 March 2022 presented a number of hurdles, as it led to a nationwide lockdown and resulted in days of no publishing as authorities attempted to rein in the spread of the virus.

And then there were times of total communication blackouts with the authorities not giving updates on COVID-19 daily infections or even trying to stifle attempts to break a story on Samoa’s first COVID-19 related death. 

It laid bare our technocrats lack of knowledge of crisis communication while highlighting the need for more transparency, accessibility, responsiveness and engagement between the media and Government entities such as the National Emergency Operations Centre (N.E.O.C.).

We do acknowledge the move by the N.E.O.C. and the Ministry of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to virtual press conferences, as the COVID-19 death toll increased and community cases were found in the length and breadth of Samoa including Manono, to push total community case numbers towards the 10,000 mark.

And we believe a lot more can be done to make the communication process more seamless, to enable the local media to have access to timely data, to enable them to disseminate accurate information with efficiency.

The addition of a robust Opposition bench to Samoa’s XVII Legislative Assembly also gives political reporting in Samoa a new dynamic, which can only augur well for Samoa’s long-term growth as a democracy, in terms of holding the Government of the day to account and using the media to play a central role in that accountability process.

Lest we forget that one of the central roles of a free press is to promote democracy, good governance and human development and the media must do its best not to fall short of that responsibility to citizens.

A thriving Fourth Estate contributes to the growth of Samoan democracy through its watchdog role that promotes accountability and transparency in Government, while giving people of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to be heard and to contribute to the decision-making processes.

Ultimately all media organisations have a responsibility to their readers, listeners and viewers to review their content to ensure it is of high journalistic standards and is the voice of the voiceless and promotes the wellbeing of the people.

The Samoa Observer takes this opportunity to wish all media practitioners in Samoa and around the region Happy World Press Freedom Day celebrations. 

By The Editorial Board 03 May 2022, 6:00AM
Samoa Observer

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