Media's role in political instability highlighted
The role of the media in reporting cases before the court has been described as crucial to upholding the judiciary’s independence as they sit in judgment on important constitutional matters.
A statement issued by three Commonwealth Legal Associations last week expressed deep concern about the challenges to the rule of law in Samoa following April’s General Election.
The Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association (C.M.J.A.), the Commonwealth Legal Education Association (C.L.E.A.) and the Commonwealth Lawyers Association (C.L.A.) highlighted a number of potential obstacles to the courts’ independence.
They specifically called for the public officials and the press to respect the principle of separation of powers and the role of the judiciary as a check and balance on executive and legislative powers.
The Samoa Law Society has also emphasised the need for institutions to uphold the rule of law.
In an interview with the Samoa Observer, veteran journalist and freelancer, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia said certain recent media coverage has raised concern about the fourth estate’s independence.
In particular, Autagavaia said some of his peers have ignored the Media Code of Practice and used their platforms for propaganda to support certain political parties and politicians.
For example, he said the broadcasting of an interview with the former Chief Justice, Patu Falefatu Sapolu, discussing issues before the Supreme Court was unprofessional and breaches the code of ethics.
“We have to wait for the court to rule and then we report on it [in detail],” said the senior journalist.
“But I’m so sad to see that other media are being used as propaganda by the politicians and the former [Chief Justice] knows very well that the matter is pending before the court.
“For the media to push this through to support their political agenda and support for a party is very sad and they are not supposed to do that…”
The former Chief Justice, Patu Tiavaasue Falefatu Sapolu has appeared on TV1 in several programmes discussing his views on certain constitutional questions before the Court.
The office of the Press Secretariat has also been circulating those views in Press Releases to the press claiming it’s for “the information of the public” despite proceedings pending in the Supreme Court.
Autagavaia added that the caretaker Government had passed media laws in the past to ensure there is no biased reporting and to comply with the Code of Practice.
He said regardless of this Government officials continue to accuse the media of biased reporting and allegedly scandalising the Court with their comments broadcast on various platforms.
Autagavaia said the media organisation has to review its code of practice to strengthen the independence of the press and to remain neutral during political uncertainty times.
“We shouldn’t be involved in politics, we have to remain neutral,” he added.
The Journalist Association of Samoa (J.A.W.S.) President Lagi Keresoma reminded the journalists to be wary of what they report and be mindful that certain cases are still before the Court.
She said this can possibly jeopardise trials that the court has yet to rule on and it is a concern that needs to be addressed.
The three Commonwealth Legal Associations last week, highlighted basic principles on the independence of the judiciary adopted by the Seventh United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders.
The institution supports the judiciary of Samoa in exercising its vital role to decide cases arising from the prevailing conflict.
“Regarding media statements Principle IX b. of the Latimer House Principles states:
“Government’s transparency and accountability is promoted by an independent and vibrant media which is responsible, objective and impartial….” (emphasis added).
“Principle 5 of the Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression and the Role of the Media in Good Governance endorsed by the CLA and CLEA provides: ‘The media have a responsibility not to undermine the authority or independence of the judiciary…”