British High Commission hosts press freedom forum

A World Media Freedom Day event hosted by the British High Commission on Wednesday brought together media content creators, National University of Samoa academics, the UNESCO Representative, and the Journalist Association of (Western) Samoa (J.A.W.S.).

The 70-minutes roundtable discussion at the British High Commission office at Tamaligi saw presentations by the Apia-based UNESCO Regional Director, Nisha, J.A.W.S. President Lagi Keresoma, Deputy British High Commissioner Ian Richards, and Iosefa Enari of Eye Spy Radio and Sleeping Giants fame.

Recently elected to head Samoa’s media association, J.A.W.S. head Ms. Keresoma highlighted the function of the media in Samoa and the role it plays to ensure good governance, transparency, and accountability as well as the challenges currently facing the industry.

“The media plays a pivotal role in this area because they can change and shape the attitudes of policy and lawmakers, even the public,” she said.

“They have quite an influential impact on people, and we should not undermine the authority that we have in what we do.

“Every democratic country needs a free and independent media and the Samoan media has come a long way.  The question then is how free is media freedom in Samoa? “

Ms. Keresoma said Samoa’s media industry has been described as “one of the free media in the Pacific” but there are challenges that need to be overcome in order to reach that level of freedom.

“I for one am proud to say that despite difficult situations I found myself in, in the past, I do believe that, however, it does not mean that we are not without problems," she said. 

“We are free to write, free to publish or broadcast, unlike our other colleagues who face a much harsher environment than us.

“But it’s true, we still face many obstacles such as accessibility to information and this is not new, public persecution of reporters and even journalists going overboard.

“But these are minor compared to those who still or have lost lives fighting for this freedom elsewhere.”

And current hurdles include Samoa’s Criminal Libel law which Ms. Keresoma was a “short-lived celebration” in 2013 when it was repealed by the Government, only to be reintroduced in 2017. 

“It was a short-lived celebration on that one and the Printers and Publishers Act,” she added.

“J.A.W.S. executives in the past have been appealing to the Government to repeal these laws to allow the free flow of information, and (caretaker Prime Minister Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi) Tuilaepa during his keynote address at one of the press freedom celebrations said ‘there is a time for everything. We are yet to see that happen.”

Mr. Richards said marking World Press Freedom Day is an important part of the United Kingdom’s commitment to media freedom and recognition of the role that a free media can play in a functional democratic society.

“It was a pleasure to host at our High Commission a group of young students of journalism to discuss some of these issues,” he said at the event. 

“In 2019 the United Kingdom also formed and is co-chair of the Media Freedom Coalition: a partnership of 47 countries working together to advocate media freedom and the safety of journalists. 

“I hope to see Samoa join the coalition as the first Pacific Island state in the near future.”

Nisha gave a presentation on the global issues surrounding press freedom around the world and made reference to the various Samoa Observer articles published in recent times on journalists who lost their lives while on the job.

And local radio broadcaster and social media content creator, Iosefa Enari shared his experience on reporting news through social media platforms.

N.U.S. academics Dr. Honiara Salanoa and Fuatia Malifa were accompanied by a group of media and journalism students to the roundtable discussions. 

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