Media Can Be Gagged For ‘Prejudicial’ Content In Samoa

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Fines, convictions for badmouthing Samoa as tourist destination

By Sophie Budvietas

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, July 10, 2013) – The Government, through the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA), now has the power to exercise "lawful controls" over the publication of any "false" information about the tourism industry in Samoa.

It means "any person" who publishes any information deemed "prejudicial to a public perception of Samoa" is liable for conviction under the Tourism Development Act 2012.

The Act was passed in Parliament last year. According to article 38 of the Act, "The Authority may take such action as is necessary to preserve the reputation of Samoa as a tourism destination."

However, not only can the STA effectively gag "any person," the Act goes further.

"No civil or criminal liability shall apply to the Authority in relation to any exercise of power in accordance with this section," the Act says.

Effectively, the Authority can disagree with what "any person" says about Samoa, prosecute them for saying it and they cannot do anything about it.

The Act serves several purposes, according to a presentation given by Salote Peteru, of the Attorney General’s office, yesterday. The legislation is currently being publically discussed at a series of Tourism Sector Seminars for Promotion of Tourism Development Act 2012, run by the STA in Upolu and Savai’i.

Ms. Peteru’s presentation gave several purposes for the Act.

First, it is to "promote sustainable development of tourism in Samoa and to promote orderly development of tourism through planning and regulation."

Second, it is to "involve both the tourism industry and Government in the development of the industry, licensing of tourism businesses and, enforcing approved standards and systems or ratings and accreditations."

Clause 38 of the Act deals solely with the "Preservation of the reputation of the destination."

It says that if "any person" fails to preserve the reputation of the destination, they "shall be liable upon conviction to a fine not less than 50 penalty units, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three (3) months, or both."

This punishment will be enforced if "any person…publishes or causes to be published, by any means, any information or claim that is false and which is intended or may have the tendency to cause harm to the reputation of Samoa as a tourism destination; or "Refuses to retract such false information or to publish a correction concerning the information when required to do so by the Authority; or "Fails to retract the information or to publish a correction in the manner required by the Authority."

If this happens, the Authority will take action by "exercising lawful controls over the publication of false or out of date information by any means, or such information which is prejudicial (harmful) to a public perception of Samoa.

"Otherwise publishing information to correct any fact, matter or detail which the Authority considers to be false or misleading; or "Doing any other act or thing which may preserve the reputation of Samoa as a tourism destination when necessary."

Yesterday, questions were sent to Attorney General, Aumua Ming Leung Wai about whether this clause was unconstitutional. He had not responded at press time.

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