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EDITORIAL: By the Samoa Observer editorial board

The caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, thinks the newspaper you hold in your hands is dedicated to trying to “tear down” the Samoan government but the broader economic progress of Samoa.

So, reader, are you subsidising borderline treachery by having paid for the edition you hold in your hands?

We certainly don’t think so. This newspaper has been part of Samoan public life for longer than the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) and Tuilaepa Dr Sa’ilele Malielegaoi. And for all these 43 years we have lived by a simple rule: telling truths, however uncomfortable, is the best thing for our country.

Our loyalties belong to our readers, the people of Samoa, and the truth and nothing and no one else. We consider not telling the truth about failures of government or corrupt goings-on to be the height of disloyalty to one’s country.

Tuilaepa’s statement was not entirely surprising to us but further evidence that he evidently lives by the saying that consistency is a preoccupation of small minds.

Many would have noticed that the Prime Minister’s office space at the Human Rights Protection Party Headquarters has as its backdrop several articles from what he this week described (and later retracted as a ) “vile” and “miserable” tabloid.

It is a strange thing indeed for a leader to have clippings from the pages of what he has described as essentially a magazine subversive to national loyalties.

Flattering coverage
There is after all an alternative, government-owned newspaper in this country and one that has not been short at all of flattering coverage of the Prime Minister that could serve as alternative decoration.

But perhaps he’s taken these pages down following the front-page article of this edition of the Weekend Observer.

On Thursday, Tuilaepa asserted that it was very typical of Samoans to try and tear each other down even when they are trying to do good.

“That’s like this paper, the [Samoa] Observer. Everything [they publish] is incorrect, I do not know when they will correct it,” he said.

“Others try to do something good while others try to tear it down […] just like the Samoa Observer newspaper.

“Whatever happens, they never report about anything bad from other political parties, but when it is criticism from something very minimal, oh, the [Samoa] Observer would be so full of a collection of irrelevant reports on it.”

We would beg to differ with the caretaker Prime Minister’s observations. But of course we would; no one would admit to harbouring such a rotten agenda as to seek to sabotage this country.

So we suggest you don’t take our word for it but rather Tuilaepa’s own.

‘Loved’ Samoa Observer
It was earlier this year that the then-Prime Minister said that he “loved” the Samoa Observer.

He was mixing his words with a touch of irony but as the old Russian saying goes: in every joke, there is a trace of a joke. And in this case, he was obviously making a serious point about the deficiencies of this country’s state-owned media empire and its inability to ask questions of him during press conferences.

He reproached the announcers at the state-owned radio station 2AP for deriving all the questions they asked of the Prime Minister from the Samoa Observer.

“Even though I make harsh comments towards them most of the time, I still love the (Samoa) Observer,” he said.

“You guys then go and read their articles and use those articles to formulate the questions you ask me during our weekly programmes.

“That is how you get your questions and that is what makes these interviews interesting, but it’s all because of the issues highlighted in the Observer.”

If Tuilaepa truly desired scrutiny he would have invited us to ask him unscripted questions at press conferences over the last two years for which he was in power. We never requested nor required what the Government Press Secretariat styled as the special “privilege” of being the only media outlet obliged to submit questions in advance to the Prime Minister.

Returning scrutiny
Returning scrutiny to your press conferences, Tuilaepa, is only a phone call away.

But let’s consider the Prime Minister’s broader accusation. Do we set out to undermine the credibility of our government?

No, we just do our job every day.

Politics is about power. Journalism is about asking questions about how that power is exercised to ensure that it is in the interest of the public.

In recent times at the Samoa Observer, this has involved a range of stories.

We of course measured the multi-million dollar airstrip at Ti’avea Airport – sold to the public as an alternative to Faleolo International Airport – and found it three times too small to land a passenger jet. There were plenty of questions there.

In 2019, we asked why the government was continuing to downplay the possibility that Measles had reached Samoa when, as we then revealed, an isolation unit for the disease had already been established at the national hospital.

Protecting the youth
More recently, we asked why the government had ignored the advice of its own advisory committee, issued months before, to move quickly to protect the youth of the nation before the disease ravaged the health of Samoa’s children.

Is it the Prime Minister’s contention that we should not investigate matters such as these and ask questions about them? Especially when, by his own admission, state-media employees are not providing scrutiny or even ideas off their own steam.

To be frank, we don’t much care. Our responsibility is not to please the powerful – far from it. But it is obvious that governance in Samoa would be much the worse without a critical press.

But as to the accusation that we are biased, in fact, whichever way misdeeds draw our attention our reporters will follow.

So it was with our critical editorial and coverage of the Faatuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party manifesto. We asked how the party planned on funding a policy platform that would almost double the size of the national budget at a time when the economy was shrinking faster than ever.

What about our March front-page story that three electoral committee members from the party were facing charges relating to election forgery?

(Note the party, which is not happy with our journalism, denied this story but has refused to say what the titles of the people arrested were. Until it does so, we stand by our reporting.)

Taking on all comers
The Samoa Observer takes on all comers and has always done so.

If we sense that the rules are being breached or the people of Samoa are being hard done by we will report on it. If we believe that the ongoing level of poverty in this nation is obscene, as we do, we report on it.

What is the alternative of a country without a newspaper with a critical edge?

We see it regularly in the Prime Minister’s press conferences where a sense of apathy radiates around the room as announcers tee up the Prime Minister with questions that fit his agenda.

Question marks loom particularly large over Samoa’s democracy at the moment. The final institution of government standing between Samoa and dictatorship appears to be the judiciary.

Tuilaepa has done his best to undermine that institution through casting aspersions.

But we can assure you that whatever the caretaker Prime Minister says about us will make us think twice about publishing a story.

This editorial was published by the Samoa Observer on 8 May 2021.

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