SAMOA OBSERVER PUBLISHER WINS COMMONWEALTH MEDIA FREEDOM AWARD

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APIA, Samoa (October 30, 1998 - Radio Australia)---The publisher of the Samoa Observer newspaper has won the Commonwealth's most prestigious media freedom award.

Savea Sano Malifa founded the Observer, and is now its editor and publisher.

He's won the Commonwealth Press Union's Astor Award, which recognizes significant contributions to preserving and enhancing media freedom.

It's the first time the award has been given to a Pacific media organization.

The Samoa Observer has struggled to survive.

Its independent reporting of corruption and abuse of office has angered the Samoan Government, which has sought to restrict the paper.

Mr. Malifa has been assaulted, his journalists have been threatened and the paper's office burned down under suspicious circumstances.

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

PACIFIC ISLANDS NEWS ASSOCIATION (PINA) Suva, Fiji Islands

October 28, 1998

"SAMOA OBSERVER" EDITOR-PUBLISHER WINS ASTOR AWARD

On 27 October 1998, Savea Sano Malifa, editor-publisher of the "Samoa Observer", was named the 1998 winner of the Commonwealth's most prestigious press freedom honor, the Astor Award. The announcement was made during the Astor Award dinner at the Commonwealth Press Union's biennial conference, being held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The award goes to an individual considered to have made a significant contribution toward press freedom. It is named after Lord Astor, a former president of the Commonwealth Press Union. Malifa is the twenty fourth winner and the first from the Pacific Islands. The presentation to Malifa -- who was a speaker at the conference -- was made by UNESCO's Director for Freedom of Expression and Democracy, Alain Modoux.

In earlier comments in Kuala Lumpur, Malifa told of the "Observer's" continuing battle to foster and defend freedom of expression and information despite the pressure, attacks and rising legal costs. "Freedom is the sustenance that nurtures democracy," he said. He thanked organizations such as UNESCO, International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), the World Press Freedom Committee, Commonwealth Press Union, Commonwealth Journalists Association, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) for their support. "They all helped when we needed it most," he said.

BACKGROUND:

Malifa and his wife Jean are also previous winners of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Pacific Freedom of Information award. They received this for their courageous defense of the right of the Samoan people to freedom of information and expression.

The "Samoa Observer", which was founded by the Malifas, is Samoa's only daily newspaper and main independent news voice. The government-run national radio and TV services are heavily controlled by the government, which has been in power for 15 years. The opposition's access to the government media is severely restricted.

Independent news media and journalists have faced increasing pressure after highlighting reports alleging growing corruption and abuse of public office.

The "Samoa Observer" printing plant was burned down under highly suspicious circumstances; Malifa was assaulted by relatives of a government minister; death threats were made to Malifa and his family; 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.

Malifa and the "Observer" continue to face mounting legal costs because of criminal and civil libel actions against them over their reports and a letter published in the paper. The actions have been mounted by Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana and other government ministers. The government has said it will provide public money to pay the legal costs of ministers and government leaders who sue for libel.

For further information, contact Nina Ratulele, Coordinator, PINA Pacific Freedom of Information Network, Pacific Islands News Association. Mailing Address: Pacific Islands News Association, Private Mail Bag, Suva, Fiji Island Street Address; Level 2, Damodar Centre, 46 Gordon Street, Suva, Fiji Islands Tel: +679 303623; Fax: +679 303943; E-mail: pina@is.com.fj Internet site: http://www.pressasia.org/PFA /

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