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Samoa Observer journalist supported for her courage and ethics

JAWS logo
Minister responsible for media accused of belittling her and the profession

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Samoa’s journalist association JAWS is condemning the actions of Minister for Communication and Information Technology Toelupe Poumulinuku Onesemoa over his treatment of a Samoa Observer journalist.

The country's media association released a statement on Tuesday after the Observer reporter, Sialai Sarafina Sanerivi was invited by Toelupe to visit his office last Friday so he could comment on allegations that documentation for a seized American Samoa-registered vessel was initially sent to his office.

According to the Observer, Ms. Sanerivi ended up spending two hours in the Minister's office and was subjected to a barrage of questions targeting her job as well as the Samoa Observer — her employer. He also asked his staff as well as his wife to respond to questions that the reporter asked him, in relation to the American Samoa vessel.

"The Minister's action which comes down to nothing more but unprofessional has shown his true opinion of the Fourth of Estate [sic] role in a democratic country by belittling the profession," reads the JAWS statement. 

"The extreme action he took in threatening the journalist, belittling the newspaper she represents and pressur[ing] her to name her source of information is beyond belief.”

What is even more shocking, the JAWS press release said, “is the fact that he is the Minister responsible for the media.

“Did he think being the Minister for Communication would spare him from the might of the pen?

“Did he think being a Minister gives him authority to detain the journalist for 2 hours?”

The release went on to say of there are issues with the journalist or story. there “is a proper channel he should follow, but to call his wife as reinforcement and both threaten legal actions against the journalist shows abuse of power of a public officer.”

“He needs to apologise for his actions.”

JAWS ended commending Sanerivi for her courage and standing by her ethics.

Samoa News readers had comments on the story as well. On our website, a reader identified as  ‘Fiakagaka’ pointed out statements characterized as “arrogant language”:

“You don't need to call me, we are not the same, you don't get to call me." What an entitled American Samoan businessman said.

Toelupe: "That's not a nice job you do, you're wasting your time!"

“By now, reporters in Samoa must be used to this kind of arrogant language from politicians. Some of our people have no humility and are very fiakanaks. So much for agaguu faaaloalo ma le ava fakafaka, a ea?

“At least there's no more beating of newspaper editors like what Tofilau's government did to Sano Malifa. Now it's just a war of words with politicians, who rather than being transparent and knowing how to handle the media, lash out about the media reporting on the little newsworthy events that happens in Samoa. Face it, Samoa is a small country. No scandal there is that interesting in the grand scheme of things. Accept that there was a lapse in your port authority and implement ways to eliminate a future failure.”

 ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ said:

“Toelupe doesn't need the Samoa Observer to discredit him — all he has to do is open his mouth and his credibility flies out the window. So this international incident is all the fault of his secretary? Hey, don't give the bureaucrats in Pago and Washington ideas — pretty soon they'll all be blaming their secretaries every time they embarrass themselves. Also, the story doesn't say what the nature of the complaint to the police against the reporter is. Just for trying to get Toelupe's side of the story?“

‘Teinematu’ added to the comments:

“Why are they harassing her?  She’s doing her job getting to the bottom of this corruption.”