Rising concern over media freedom in Samoa | Pacific Beat

Rising concern over media freedom in Samoa

Rising concern over media freedom in Samoa

Updated 16 July 2013, 16:41 AEST

A Samoan journalist who was the victim of theft and a personal threat, says she will continue reporting without compromise.

Chief Reporter for the Samoa Observer, Sophie Budvietas had her laptop stolen from her car and a threatening note was left behind.

The incident comes amid a number of concerns for freedom of media in Samoa.

Presenter:Tom Maddocks

Speaker:Sophie Budvietas, Chief Reporter, Samoa Observer; Lisa Williams-Lahari, Pacific Freedom Forum.

MADDOCKS: After stopping at a bar to pick up her husband, journalist Sophie Budvietas headed back to the car a short time later to make sure everything was in check.
But she quickly noticed her computer and its charger were gone, yet her camera was left behind.
Looking through the car once she had arrived home, things turned worse. 
She found a note on the floor that read "Observer bitch", neatly handwritten across the A4 page.
BUDVIETAS: So initially I was angry that that would happen in Samoa, happen to anyone in Samoa and so yeah, that was pretty much what was going through my head.
I didn't realise it was a common theft til I got home to check if anything else had been taken. It's just started to crop up a bit more in the last few months here.
MADDOCKS: Despite the very direct threat, she has resolved to continue reporting without compromise.
BUDVIETAS: Freedom of speech is one of the fundamental rights in any democracy so that's why I'm doing it and people do need to know what's going on and the media unfortunately is the last bastion for what people can find out what's actually going on.
MADDOCKS: She says the investigation into the incident will only progress if she approaches the police. 
As Chief Reporter for the Samoa Observer, she says one of her more controversial pieces of reporting was on what some described as a 'crisis' in the Samoan tourism industry.
Lisa Williams-Lahari from the Pacific Freedom Forum - a regional voice for media rights - says the threat pointed at Sophie Budvietas is concerning.
WILLIAMS-LAHARI: It's even more worrying when it's done to a woman journalist and there are issues involved around what kind of signals that sends to anyone else in journalism. Something that needs to be followed up and followed up immediately. 
I'd really urge the police investigating the matter to just ensure that action is taken or something is done about it - that it doesn't become one of those complaints or investigations that just gets swept under the carpet. 
And I have to congratulate Sophie for reporting it because there are a lot more threats against journalists and women journalists that tend to go unreported because they don't want to draw attention to themselves and that's another form of self-censorship that we don't want to see encouraged.
MADDOCKS: Mrs. Budvietas says this is not the first time recently journalists in Samoa have been targeted in this manner.
BUDVIETAS: A month ago there was an incident where some journalists stopped to take a photograph of a traffic incident and one of the guys involved in it tried to pull the camera out of the journalists hands. 
And police on the scene basically ignored what was going on and then they reported it and nothing has happened as a result of that with the police.
MADDOCKS: The threat comes amid a raft of concerns for press freedom in Samoa.
Journalists were recently warned by the Speaker of Parliament that they could be jailed for up to six months for misreporting a story from parliament.
The government, through the Samoa tourism industry, now effectively has the power to gag the media for any prejudicial content or publication of false information about the tourism industry in the country.
And now, a long-proposed media council could arrive prematurely, very much against the will of the Samoa Observer, after the Attorney General wrote a letter on behalf of the government expressing support for the creation of a media council as soon as possible - nearly a year before the original two-year target was set to establish the council.
And on Friday last week, the Journalists Assocation of Western Samoa or JAWS issued a joint press release with the government and Samoa Law Reform Commission to work together on drafting a bill for the media council, only two days after the assocation made it clear that the Samoan media needed the full two years to set up the council.
Lisa Williams-Lahari again.
WILLIAMS-LAHARI: Id just like to see a bit more justification for the change in position. It is very much a drastic turnaround on their position of just a couple of days before. It would also be interesting to see what would happen had those government members of JAWS declared their position and maybe stepped back from the discussion on the table at the time, given their conflict of interest on the issue on the table.
MADDOCKS: Sophie Budvietas says press freedom is very much under threat.
BUDVIETAS: I'd say a great deal and not in a way like it is in say Fiji where they do have what we call khaki   sub-editors go into the papers and very much physically control what is published there. 
The way they're doing it here is that, for instance, by just having the media banned from certain things. Like we've been banned from public meetings, we've been banned from a function held for the national football team, all ministries now require emailed set of questions, there's no open-door policy with interviews or anything. 
It's actually been written into legislation under the Samoa Tourism Development Act, anyone who speaks out against Samoa tourism could be deemed detrimental to Samoa tourism and could face up to three months in prison and a $5000 fine. It's not an easy time to be a reporter here and I think just because it's not visual what's happening it doesn't mean it isn't happening and press freedom is very much threatened here. 
I mean JAWS, the Journalists Association of Western Samoa, is headed up by a parliamentary press secretary, not a journalist, if that gives you an indication.

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