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APIA, Samoa (May 10, 1999 - PACNEWS)---The Samoa government has come under criticism from the Austrian-based International Press Institute.

The Institute, in its World Press Freedom Review 1998, said the Samoan government, which has been in power for more than 10 years, is known for its attacks on the independent news media and efforts to curb freedom of information and expression.

"Opposition leaders remained barred from the Government-controlled national radio and television services," the report said.

"Civil and criminal court actions against the country’s main independent news voice, the daily newspaper Samoa Observer and its Publisher Savea Sano Malifa, continued.

"A Government Minister was alleged to have made death threats against the assistant editor of a weekly newspaper."

The report said in 1998 the Government decided the legal costs incurred by Government Ministers and senior officials who sue the news media would be paid from public funds.

"The first beneficiary was the then Prime Minister, the late Tofilau Eti Alesana. Tofilau had piled up a heavy legal bill suing the Observer and Malifa. This included using law firms in Australia and New Zealand and flying in a top lawyer from Australia to lead his court action.

"Malifa’s continuing struggle for the public’s right to know, and the exposure of alleged corruption, came with a heavy financial cost, in damages awarded against him and mounting legal fees. His efforts and the pressure he and the Observer have faced over a number of years have won growing international recognition."

The report said some in the Samoan news media are hoping for a more relaxed approach from the Government in 1999.

"This followed Tofilau’s retirement because of worsening health. His replacement, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, is regarded as less autocratic."

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