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By Dev Nadkarni

SUVA, Fiji (Islands Business, Dec. 2005) – Samoa is perhaps the only Pacific Island nation that has international editions of its publications.

Savea Sano Malifa has international editions of his newspaper, the Samoa Observer.

Earlier this year, the country's most widely circulated newspaper, the daily Samoa Observer, launched its twice-weekly New Zealand edition published from Auckland. This is printed from the Observer's own press site, set up in the heart of the large Samoan community in South Auckland.

In early December, the Samoa Observer will launch its five days a week American Samoa edition, again printing locally from a press site it has set up at Tafuna, near Pago Pago's international airport.

The newspaper has come a long way since its presses were burned down in 1994 following its extensive reporting about corruption.

Founder and award-winning editor-in-chief Savea Sano Malifa had a series of lawsuits slapped on him and the paper, one of which is still dragging on.

He was also assaulted. A witness in a murder trial over the assassination of a cabinet minister also revealed Savea had been targeted for killing too because of his reporting exposing corruption.

"But all that's a thing of the past," he says now. "The present government has shown a lot of respect for human rights and media freedom."

His enterprise has already sunk almost S$600,000 [US$211,000] into the two new editions.

"We have a circulation of 5,000 in New Zealand and will be kicking off with 3,500 in American Samoa," he says.

The New Zealand edition sells at a cover price of NZ$2 [US$1.34]. After its initial successful launch in Auckland, it is now achieving rapid circulation gains in Wellington, the other main center of the Samoan community in New Zealand.

New Zealand has about 120,000 Samoans, 40,000 of them believed to be living in the greater Auckland region, particularly in Manukau City.

[PIR editor’s note: Manukau city is located southeast of Auckland.]

At least another 1,100 Samoans migrate to New Zealand each year under New Zealand's Samoan immigration quota. "I believe there is a market for a five-day-a-week Samoan/English publication," says Malifa and indicates that he and his team are working towards it.

While Malifa has been concentrating on the American Samoa launch, publisher Muliagatele Jean Malifa has been looking after developing the New Zealand edition, and training and development editor Peter Lomas runs the seven-day-a-week Samoa edition.

To promote the sales of his New Zealand edition, Malifa pulled the Observer's free online edition off the Internet.

"Once I took it offline, the sales soared," says he.

He does not plan to restore the online edition in a hurry. While he asserts that the Samoan print medium is reasonably free, he has reservations about broadcast, particularly television. "It is government-owned and very much a dog on a leash," he says.

The parliamentary Opposition, the Samoa Democratic United Party, has taken to monitoring news coverage on SBC TV One. Figures it regularly produces show the government gets far more airtime on SBC TV news than the Opposition.

Faiesea Lei Sam-Matafeo, the government-owned Samoa Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) chief executive officer, vehemently disagrees with Malifa. "There is no interference from government," she counters. "SBC is not funded by the government, it is a self-funding operation. Besides, the government pays for any programming it wants telecast."

Lei Sam-Matafeo says her corporation has complete freedom on deciding the programming.

"They (the government) do make requests now and then; but we have the final say," she adds.

She substantiates broadcasting's independence by explaining the provisions of the Public Bodies Act, which were changed during the course of law reforms in 2001. "Under the provisions, ministers are liable if they interfere with the operations of public enterprises," she says.

However, critics point out that Communications Minister Palusalue Fa'apo II continues to chair the government-appointed SBC board.

SBC is deemed a public trading organization operating as a business. "Since 2002, we have been turning out a profit and are now completely self-funded," Lei Sam-Matafeo points out.

Of the 18 hours of daily programming, 30 percent is indigenous. Much of it falls in the infotainment/edutainment category. Programs like 'Do You Know' which explain procedures relating to the availing of agricultural loans and other business and health-related information, community notices and talk shows are all produced indigenously.

Among the popular locally made programs are 'Vaa O Manu' which candidly deals with social issues like child and sexual abuse and HIV/AIDS. Two-and-a-half hours of religious programming is also part of the corporation's local offering.

Some of the cultural content like live coverage of events and traditional themes like "Legends of Samoa" finds its way into community television programming in Australia and New Zealand. The bulk of the programming, though, comes from overseas networks.

A recent hit is the introduction of Bollywood films in the Saturday afternoon slot. "This has been a great success," says Lei Sam-Matafeo.

"If we ever miss it on a single Saturday, we're flooded with calls. Bollywood attitudes seem to be having a strong influence on young people here."

SBC's radio operation runs both AM and FM services, the latter beaming round the clock. The AM service is received both in neighboring Tokelau, Niue and American Samoa.

Commercial broadcasting pioneers Radio Polynesia operates four 24-hour-a-day stations from Apia. Radio Polynesia is rapidly developing its transmission reach, including across the waters to Tutuila in American Samoa, where many Samoans work in the Pago Pago fish canneries.

Founder Maposua Rudolf Keil has also obtained one of two commercial free-to-air television licences issued by the Government. He has been coy about giving details. But he is known to have looked at both free-to-air and pay TV.

Armed with five camera units and a PC-based post-production set-up, SBC also offers production and post-production services to local advertisers in creating their television spots.

Lei Sam-Matafeo, a journalist-turned-CEO, is positive about the future. As the economy grows, she expects companies to spend more on advertising. "Although it is too early, the next logical step for SBC would be to consider adding a pay channel," she says.

There are already signs of the advertising industry growing. Ronette Van Heeswyck, an independent video producer and director who moved to Samoa from New Zealand three years ago, sees it coming.

"Advertising has become more sophisticated. What I find now with clients is a complete change in mindset. They now understand that advertising is not just about price and all about how well it will sell their product and services," she says.

Last year, her firm Promo Pictures Productions, put together Samoa's first advertorial TV show, 'My Samoan Wedding'. It showcased Samoa's wedding industry and had phone numbers on screen for people to ring at the end of each profile. The show was aimed at people planning their weddings so they would know where to go.

But being an independent production house in Samoa is challenging, especially because of the small size of the market.

"Currently, only SBC One produces TV shows, because they have the financial backing. But for the rest of us freelance producers, we have to find our own sponsors and that's very difficult in such a small market. Also, when we want our shows broadcast on television we pay for airtime. It's not like TV stations overseas where you sell your shows to them to recover your costs. Here in Samoa, you pay to produce your show, you pay to market your show and you pay to broadcast your show," says Van Heeswyck.

December 29, 2005

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