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Media watchdog praises action of Samoa journalists during election upheaval

Monica Miller
PFF media release

Suva, FIJI — Samoa journalists who stood their ground after being told by police to leave a parking lot at the Samoa Supreme Court should receive an apology, and an explanation of why they were not allowed in court, says the Pacific Freedom Forum, PFF.

Members of the Samoa media who had gathered at Samoa's Supreme Court precinct Sunday morning 24th May, to cover an urgent 'meeting in chambers' between the Chief Justice and Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) were asked to leave the court premises.

The Samoa Observer reports their Chief Reporter; photographer, Aufai Areta Areta, Radio New Zealand Correspondent Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia and Leilua Amesene Tanielu of Radio Polynesia were asked by the police to “leave” the parking lot.

The police said their bosses had ordered media to leave the court premises because the entire compound was in 'lockdown'.

"In refusing to accept these reasons and seeking clarification, these journalists bravely stood up for the public interest and right to know," says PFF chair, Bernadette Carreon.

"Reporting elections is a time of high pressure on media workers to get the facts right so voters know what's happening. With Samoa's historic 2021 polling outcomes and new developments, all parties should be even more aware of the importance of having media observers across all events."

Melanesia co-chair Robert Iroga noted media were standing in a public place and not posing a public nuisance or threat, "and were well within their rights to question the orders from the police officers seeking their removal. It's disappointing that these officers may not have been aware of the excellent work led by the Journalists of Samoa who have previously run training workshops with police on the important role of the media, especially at times like this."

"We commend senior journalists for their calm and professional responses, knowing their rights, and providing this powerful learning moment," says Polynesia co-chair Monica Miller.

Miller who had been covering the Samoa elections and the post election court cases up to Friday expressed disappointment that after the media was granted permission to record court proceedings and received electronic copies of rulings from the court under approval of his Honor the Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese, the media received this treatment on Sunday.

“This was a case of interest and importance to the people of Samoa and the media’s presence was necessary to enable them to report the proceedings.”

“The media should receive an explanation on why they were not allowed in,” stressed Miller. "There are many important milestones and lessons for journalists and voters at these 2021 elections and given the unprecedented twists and turns we are seeing, it’s vital that the media be present to report the unfolding events not only to the people of Samoa but to the world…”