Faimalo’s complaint and the beauty of a press conference
As a parliamentary democracy, Samoa cannot progress as a nation without a thriving Fourth Estate playing its watchdog role, safeguarding the transparency of the country’s democratic processes.
It is a role that we in the media, the Government and public officials should not take for granted, and must continue to promote as well as practice amid increasing competition for news and information, to meet the insatiable appetite of Samoan readers, viewers and listeners.
Changing technology in recent years has put governments and public officials in the box seat to become gate-keepers of information, enabling them to bypass traditional media, to reach the public directly through multiple social media platforms to disseminate information they deemed appropriate.
In Samoa the Government in recent years has used media-invited press conferences to disseminate information on official Government policy. During the term of the 2016–2021 Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) Administration, the former prime minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi had weekly televised programs on two private-owned television stations.
Over the years during Tuilaepa’s reign the two television stations often disseminated exclusive information and news material courtesy of the H.R.P.P. leader, through their news programs and social media platforms.
For viewers in Samoa who did not follow the television stations at that time, they missed out on critical information, which would have put them in a position to make informed decisions pertaining to their day-to-day lives.
Local media organisations that did not have such a “working relationship” with the sitting prime minister at that time – were often forced to “rescue” the story by sending questions to the Government Press Secretariat or requesting a copy of the audio from the television station concerned.
It wasn’t a perfect working environment for the local members of the press and journalists were often constrained by such a working relationship,which at times prevented them from reporting without fear or favour.
Last year’s 2021 General Election and the Samoa Court of Appeal’s installation of the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Government led by Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, opened the door for a transparent relationship with the media, with local journalists optimistic of the start of a new era that acknowledged their watchdog role.
But nine months after the new Government took office, it has become clear that the new Cabinet Ministers have taken a liking for a church-run television station, where official policies are exclusively discussed, and even matters yet to be deliberated on by the Legislative Assembly allegedly divulged to the surprise of fellow parliamentarians.
So we are not surprised at the course of action that the Gagaifomauga No. 1 M.P. Faimalotoa Kika Stowers took, by filing a complaint with the Parliament Speaker against the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, La’auli Leuatea Schmidt.
The M.P. said La’auli’s comments made on the Soalepule program on EFKS TV2 discussed the outcome of the appointment of a Privileges and Ethics Committees Chairman and its deliberation belittled staff of the Office of the Legislative Assembly.
Faimalo claimed the Cabinet Minister disclosed the proceedings of the Privileges and Ethics Committee publicly, despite not being a Member of the Committee or being given approval by the parliament to do so.
In her letter of complaint to the Speaker, Faimalotoa cited Standing Orders section 185 and 186 claimed the Minister and his action is in contempt of the Parliament.
The Speaker Papalii Lio Masipau, after considering the complaint, ruled on Tuesday that the charge did not constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege and the Cabinet Minister will only get a warning.
But then why should the Speaker let off the Cabinet Minister lightly with a slap on the wrist for a serious indiscretion that borders on an M.P. revealing State secrets without the approval of the Parliament?
What guarantee is there that La’auli will not cross the boundary when he is back on the platform offered by the church-run television station?
Believe it or not there is actually a solution to avoid the risks of crossing the line when you are on live television or radio – convening a proper press conference open to all media representatives, and responding to questions to the best of your ability, without having to worry about being misquoted.
No one is questioning your mandate and right as a leader and Cabinet Minister to go on live television or radio, but presenters should be switched on and ready to moderate the discussions, to ensure their guest does not end up on the wrong side of the law.
And yes, as we said before, a properly convened press conference ensures you avoid all these hurdles.
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