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Media Release March 5, 1999

NEW YORK CITY, New York (March 5, 1999 – Pacific Media Watch/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has protested to the Samoan Government against the continuing legal harassment of the Samoa Observer, the country's only independent daily newspaper.

The CPJ says the state-owned Polynesian Airlines has filed a writ petition with Samoa's Supreme Court, asking that Savea Sano Malifa, the Observer's publisher, and Aumuagaolo Ropeti Ale, an editor with the paper, be jailed for their alleged defiance of a court order. A hearing on the contempt of court charge is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on 8 March 1999.

A protest letter sent on 4 March 1999 to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said that the CPJ was "deeply disturbed" over the harassment.

On 15 February 1999, Supreme Court Justice Andrew Bray Cameron Wilson granted Polynesian Airlines the injunction it had sought to prevent the Observer from publishing news that the company was spending large sums of money to provide cash advances and allowances for senior staff.

Despite an appeal sent by CPJ to the court on 18 February 1999, Judge Wilson upheld the injunction on 24 February 1999.

Polynesian Airlines now contends that the Observer's opinion piece "Nothing Illegal, or Have Something to Hide?" and a letter to the editor headlined "Polynesian and the IOC," both of which appeared in the paper's Sunday edition of 28 February 1999, violate the court's order.

According to the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Judge Wilson ruled that the Observer was not allowed to publish "any article or story relating to the salaries, remuneration, allowances and benefits paid to employees and higher ranking officers" of Polynesian Airlines without the company's permission.

"As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ strongly objects to the use of prior restraints to censor the press. We find the court's decision to allow a government-owned company to dictate the terms of its media coverage particularly troubling," says executive director Ann Cooper in the protest letter.

"CPJ has long been concerned about the scarcity of independent voices in Samoa, where most media outlets are state-controlled. With the recent decision of the independent Radio Polynesia, 98 FM, to stop carrying local news, the survival of the Samoa Observer is especially vital to preserving the health of public debate in the country.

"Radio Polynesia had regularly carried interviews with opposition party members and anti-government protesters, and, like the Observer, was subjected to frequent attack by the administration.

CPJ fears that sustained pressure from the government prompted Radio Polynesia's decision to refrain from news broadcasting, just as it now threatens to crush the Samoa Observer.

"We respectfully urge Your Excellency to use the full power of your office to protect Savea Sano Malifa and Aumuagaolo Ropeti Ale from imprisonment, and consider amending the law to ensure that journalists cannot be arrested simply for practicing their profession."

(c)1996-99 Copyright - All rights reserved.

Title -- 1977 SAMOA: CPJ protests over harassment of Observer Date-- 5 March 1999 Byline – None Origin -- Pacific Media Watch Source -- Committee to Protect Journalists [email protected]>, 5/3/99 Status -- Unabridged

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