SAMOAN PUBLIC FUNDS TO PAY FOR SENIOR

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PACIFIC ISLANDS NEWS ASSOCIATION Suva, Fiji

INFORMATION RELEASE

OFFICIALS AND MINISTERS TO SUE MEDIA

Samoan news organizations reacted with shock to a Government decision that public money will, in future, be used to pay for Government leaders to sue the news media.

On 15 May 1998, Samoan Government Minister and spokesperson Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi announced that leaders who are "victims of wrongful accusations" may now ask the Government's Cabinet of ministers to approve financial help for their legal fees so they can sue for defamation.

"This policy has been long thought of by government as a way to solve the thing that is happening now, the great easiness by which reporters write what is slanderous of leaders of the country," Tuilaepa said.

He said those covered by the policy include the Head of State, members of the Council of Deputies, the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers, and heads of government departments and corporations.

On 17 May 1998, the "Sunday Samoan" newspaper, published by the "Samoa Observer" company, said fear of high legal costs will now restrict the media's efforts to expose abuse of public office. "This way, the policy is an invitation to unchecked corruption," it said.

Faumuina Lance Polu, President of the Journalists Association of Western Samoa (JAWS), said: "It is another clamp-down on the freedom of information and expression in Samoa. It will put the media at greater risk. Most would opt not to make the attempt to cover a sensitive story.

"It's interesting to note that this decision has been made at a time when the decision is being awaited on the civil case brought by the Prime Minister against the "Samoa Observer." When the Prime Minister's defamation case began, the question on most independent journalists' minds was, who will pay the Prime Ministers legal fees?" Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana has brought in an overseas legal expert to represent him against the "Samoa Observer," along with his Samoan lawyer."

(For more information on this case see IFEX alerts of 11 March 1998 and 24 December, 4 December, 21 November, 12 September and 24 June 1997.)

BACKGROUND:

In recent years, Samoa's independent news media and journalists have faced increasing pressure after highlighting stories alleging growing corruption and abuse of public office.

The "Samoa Observer" printing plant was burned down under highly suspicious circumstances; editor-publisher Savea Sanoa Malifa was assaulted by relatives of a government minister; government advertising was withdrawn from the newspaper; threats were made to impose newspaper licensing; and a law was introduced requiring journalists in libel actions to reveal their sources.

The "Samoa Observer" and its staff currently face criminal and civil libel actions.

Government ministers have also discussed withdrawing the license of the country's only independent radio station which carries news bulletins.

The government-run national radio and TV services are heavily government-controlled and the government restricts the Opposition's access to them.

(SEE: IFEX alerts.)

For further information, contact: Nina Ratulele Coordinator Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Private Mail Bag Suva Fiji

or

46 Gordon Street, Level 2 Damodar Centre Suva, Fiji TEL: +679 303623 FAX: +679 303943/302101 E-Mail: pina@is.com.fj  or plomas@ibi.com.fj  (attention Nina/PINA)

The information contained in this alert update is the sole responsibility of PINA. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit PINA.

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International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) Clearing House 489 College Street

Toronto (ON) M6G 1A5 CANADA TEL: +1 416 515 9622 FAX: +1 416 515 7879 Alerts E-Mail: alerts@ifex.org General E-Mail: ifex@ifex.org Internet: http://www.ifex.org/

Title -- 1377 MEDIA: Samoan public money to pay for lawsuits Date -- 21 May 1998 Byline – None Origin -- Pacific Media Watch Source -- IFEX/PINA, 20/5/98 Status – Unabridged

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