SAMOA OBSERVER MUST PRINT APOLOGY TO POLYNESIAN AIRLINES

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (March 18, 1999 - Samoa News)---The Supreme Court of (western) Samoa has ordered the management of the country’s independent newspaper, the Samoa Observer, to pay a 1,000 tala (US$ 620) fine and to issue a public apology to government-owned Polynesian Airlines.

Instead of sending publisher Savea Sano Malifa and editor Aumuagaolo Ropeti Ale to jail, as requested by Polynesian Airlines in the contempt of court case, Judge Tiavaasue Falefatu Sapolu handed down his decision on Tuesday following two days of hearings last week.

Savea and Aumuagaolo are to pay $500 tala (US$ 310) each as the monetary fine.

According to a spokesperson for Radio 2AP, Savea and Aumuagaolo were found guilty of disobeying a court injunction issued last month to prevent the newspaper from "publishing or causing to be published any article or story relating to the salaries, remuneration, allowance, and benefits paid to the employees and high ranking officers of the plaintiff and other related details in the Samoa Observer issue of February 16 or any other issue without the prior approval of the plaintiff."

Judge Sapolu further ruled that the court injunction was clear on what the newspaper could and could not do when it comes to the government-owned airline.

However, after the injunction was issued, the newspaper published a ‘letter to the editor’ and an ‘opinion’ that criticized the airline in its February 28 edition. Neither the letter to the editor nor the ‘opinion’ mentioned the salaries that the airline is trying to hide. Despite objections from Samoa Observers’ lawyer, the Judge ruled that the ‘letter to the editor’ referred directly to information that was banned by the injunction.

According to a copy of a compacted court ruling faxed to Samoa News, the Judge ruled that the breach was not casual or accidental.

Although Savea could not be reached yesterday for comment, Radio New Zealand International reported yesterday morning that Savea has already paid the fine of 500 tala for himself along with the 500 tala for the Editor.

And the newspaper will publish an apology to Polynesian Airlines. Although Polynesian Airlines does not want the salaries and allowances published by the Observer to be released, a New Zealand Herald article, with complete details, has been distributed in Apia.

The salaries and allowances which were published by Samoa News also made its way into the main streets of downtown Apia.

Comments from editors of Samoa News and Samoa Post condemning the continued oppression by the Samoa government of a "free press" were also picked up in Apia and also distributed around the world.

Responding to a Samoa Post Commentary calling on travelers to boycott Polynesian Airlines, the airline’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Leaupepe Sanirivi Muliaumaseali‘i, told a reporter that he is "saddened" by the call for a boycott.

Leaupepe is one of the people who allegedly received advances and tops the list, receiving a total of $87,150 in advances, allowances and board meeting dues.

Although there has been no confirmation from the Samoa Observer, sources in Apia said there is a possibility that the newspaper may file an appeal to the court’s decision.

The appeal would be based on a conflict of interest. According to sources, the presiding judge, Judge Sapolu, is the brother of the Polynesian Airlines court attorney who filed the charges and argued the motion.

Additionally, Judge Sapolu is the first cousin of Polynesian Airlines’ Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Leaupepe Sanirivi Muliaumaseali‘i.

Reportedly, when the lawyer for the Observer brought this issue up during the first day of hearings, the Judge quickly dismissed it, pointing out "this is Samoa."

Stories from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

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