La’auli slams Samoa Observer over church coverage
The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries has criticised Samoa Observer for reporting on issues that were discussed during last month's Congregational Christian Church Samoa's annual conference.
Speaking on the church's Soalepule program on the C.C.C.S. TV station on Wednesday night, La’auli Leuatea Schmidt said he was not happy with the newspaper's coverage of concerns expressed by its congregation members last month when they urged their leaders to monitor the content aired by the TV station. The congregation members were of the view that the program's content has become too political.
However, the senior Cabinet Minister claimed that the newspaper’s coverage of the issue was "ill-motivated" and described it as an attempt to incite conflict within the church and pressure its members to put a stop to the program. La’auli, who is also the Chairman of the ruling Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party, made the comments in response to a question from the program host, Paiali’i Tapuala Oloapu.
Paiali’i had asked for La’auli’s opinion on whether he was ever contacted by Samoa Observer for a comment on the matter. He claimed that as an employee of the church-owned TV, he didn't hear such requests from church members calling for the culling of his televised program.
He then asked the Gagaifomauga No.3. M.P. if the Samoa Observer report is true or whether the newspaper had "made up the story" just to increase sales.
Responding to the question from the program's host, La’auli explained why they started the Soalepule program in the first place.
“When I was removed from Parliament, I had nowhere else to go, so I can voice my opinions and respond to the numerous allegations and critics from the other side,” La’auli said. “They (former Human Rights Protection Party Administration) had shut the doors for all the local media outlets from me, starting from TV Samoa, TV 3, FM, and 2AP.
"They all shut their doors on me so I was looking for refuge, a place where I can voice my opinions and clarify some of the issues, which were raised by the former government against me."
Consequently, La’auli said he wrote to the then chairman of the church, the late Reverend Elder Iosefa Uilelea and Reverend Elder Tunumoso Iosia to use the church-owned television station, which he said led to the birth of the Soalepule program.
“The main objective was so that there’s a balance of views and opinions for our people and provides the platform so I can respond and clarify whatever what said about me. But it turns out that they are now bringing this issue to pressure leaders and members of the church to put an end to our program.”
La’auli then made reference to a criminal libel case that the H.R.R.P. leader Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi filed against him and the C.C.C.S. TV station early this year.
“I already said this before and I am going to say it again. If there are any issues against this program, they should aim and target me and Tapuala and leave the church alone," he said.
Turning again to the Samoa Observer, La’auli said he was shocked the newspaper published the resolutions of the church’s annual conference and reported on the C.C.C.S. shutting down the Soalepule program.
“I have been thinking about this because I have the utmost respect for the church and I am grateful for the opportunity they have given me to have this programme so I can clarify and make people understand about what’s happening in Samoa.
“If the church ever decides to shut down this program, I will humbly accept and look at other avenues so I can continue to clarify all the misinformation going around. The way I see it, the Samoa Observer has now brought this issue forward. But if worse comes to worst and the church decides to shut down this platform, I will accept their decision.
“As they say, when one door closes, God will open another door for us. But I can confirm that the church does not want to shut down our program and the report (by Samoa Observer) is not true.”
The Minister also accused this newspaper of publishing “unbalanced stories" and failing to get comments from him on various matters that were published.
“The way I see it, the Samoa Observer is coming on really strong and very fast and that’s the truth. The media does play a critical role and I also respect the important role they play. However, they should make sure the reporting is balanced and refrain from spreading misinformation.
“But then come to think of it, they are earning a lot from us (La’auli and Tapuala) and I think it's time that we have shares with the Samoa Observer. I personally think there are good reporters there. We should be mindful that the Samoa Observer newspaper has been in business for so many years.
“The service provided by the paper and Gatoaitele (Savea Sano Malifa) and Muliagatele (Jean Ash Malifa) is very important to the country. It hasn’t been an easy journey for them as well as they faced a lot of challenges over the years. But as I said, there are some good writers there, it is the new ones that have joined the paper that are doing damage to the paper.
“Once they get information, they would just go ahead and publish it instead of getting all the sides of the stories. They should be mindful that these people will leave the newspaper once their contract expires but we will continue to face each other in Samoa.
“If there is a story that requires comments from our side, come to us and we will talk about it so that everything is clear. But don’t go around causing confusion amongst the people and inciting unrest within the country.”
The article published by this newspaper last month was based on feedback collected by the C.C.C.S. Missionary Committee during this year's annual conference. Church members living in three districts, Apia-i-Sasa'e, Faleata and Vaimauga expressed concern at the politicisation of the content aired by the church-run television. Apia-i-Sasa'e district claimed the programs were "biased, one-sided and too political", the Faleata district singled out the television station's use of "E.F.K.S." (Ekalesia Fa'apotopotoga Kerisiano Samoa of C.C.C.S.) and questioned whether Cabinet Ministers or Members of Parliament should be given airtime to discuss the current Government's initiatives and policies, while Vaimauga district said the church-run TV should have more educational programs and focus on C.C.C.S. programs rather than politics.
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