Today is World Press Freedom Day. Commemorated on the 3rd of May every year, it is a day designed to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
It is also a day to reflect and learn from the past as we look to continue this journey ahead.
Here in Samoa, the day is being marked with various media activities focusing on Media Freedom and Social Media use in Samoa. Elsewhere, the global theme for this year is “Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies.”
The theme couldn’t be more apt in our opinion.
In light of recent developments in the social, economic, spiritual and political sphere of this paradise we call home, we believe an objective media driven by critical thinkers is vital.
It goes without saying that when the media’s objectivity is removed and stunted, it loses its power to make a difference. Which is why constructive critical thinking is absolutely necessary.
Having said that, we believe there is much to be celebrated in Samoa. Indeed, while things are not perfect – and probably never will be – the idea that we can commemorate a day like this in a peaceful and politically stable environment are achievements to be proud of.
We say this because in a world that is not free - where freedom of speech and expression are stifled and trampled upon – a day such as today is not possible at all.
Instead, oppression and unimaginable suffering would reign supreme so that the citizens know nothing more than pain and sorrow.
In Samoa, however, we believe freedom of the press is respected by everyone – including the government. True that such freedom is not absolute. But that’s life.
What’s important to remember at this point is the media in Samoa must be allowed to play its part to work towards fulfilling our collective dream of ensuring that press freedom is promoted and fearlessly defended.
In doing so, the free flow of information is enhanced so that the public’s right to know is guaranteed.
It goes without saying that a free press means a free people.
In the words of the United Nations, today is a day for the media and citizens of every country to celebrate and reflect on the “fundamental principles of press freedom.”
What are these fundamental principles? Well allow us on the occasion of World Press Freedom today to enlighten – or remind our readers - about Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The fundamental principles of press freedom it highlights includes:
• Censorship, direct or indirect, is unacceptable; thus laws and practices restricting the right of the news media freely to gather and distribute information must be abolished, and government authorities, national or local, must not interfere with the content of print or broadcast news, or restrict access to any news source.
• Independent news media, both print and broadcast, must be allowed to emerge and operate freely in all countries.
• There must be no discrimination by governments in their treatment, economic or otherwise, of the news media within a country. In those countries where government media also exist, the independent media must have the same free access as the official media have to all material and facilities necessary to their publishing or broadcasting operations.
• States must not restrict access to newsprint, printing facilities and distribution systems, operation of news agencies, and availability of broadcast frequencies and facilities.
• Legal, technical and tariff practices by communications authorities which inhibit the distribution of news and restrict the flow of information are condemned.
• Government media must enjoy editorial independence and be open to a diversity of viewpoints. This should be affirmed in both law and practice.
• There should be unrestricted access by the print and broadcast media within a country to outside news and information services, and the public should enjoy similar freedom to receive foreign publications and foreign broadcasts without interference.
• National frontiers must be open to foreign journalists. Quotas must not apply, and applications for visas, press credentials and other documentation requisite for their work should be approved promptly. Foreign journalists should be allowed to travel freely within a country and have access to both official and unofficial news sources, and be allowed to import and export freely all necessary professional materials and equipment.
• Restrictions on the free entry to the field of journalism or over its practice, through licensing or other certification procedures, must be eliminated.
• Journalists, like all citizens, must be secure in their persons and be given full protection of law. Journalists working in war zones are recognized as civilians enjoying all rights and immunities accorded to other civilians.
Why is it important that we remind about these fundamental principles?
Well, our government as part of a global push towards a “free world” has made a commitment to press freedom. Such a commitment must be respected and it is the media’s responsibility to hold them to account.
In Samoa, although press freedom is relatively respected, it hasn’t always been that way. We haven’t exactly been problem-free ourselves.
The media in Samoa today is “free” because of the work of its pioneers who have had to endure so much suffering and pain because they had a vision about a free Samoa.
Look at the newspaper you are reading today. Founded by Gatoaitele Savea Sano and Muliaga Jean Malifa, its history is littered with threats on their lives, their family and ridiculously expensive lawsuits obviously designed to put them out of business.
Still, they hung on to the vision, they persevered and by the grace of God, the Samoa Observer Newspaper Group has come a long way.
Let me tell you though that running a daily newspaper on an isolated group of islands in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean is not the sort of business for the faint hearted.
But that’s our commitment to you. We are here to serve you. We are the public’s eyes and ears, we are their conscience.
If we don’t shine a light on serious corruption, who will?
It goes without saying we are far from perfect. We make mistakes and we know there is a lot more we can improve on. We accept that.
We are confident, however, because the foundation upon which this newspaper was established was rock solid.
It was founded upon a desire to help the people of this nation become as informed as possible about the issues that affect them in all spheres of life. It was founded upon a dream to make a difference and to be that difference. That desire remains; it is nearly 40 years old.
The truth is simple enough. Even in countries where freedom of the press exists, the government and the powerful will always find ways to try and silence the press.
That’s that love-hate relationship which should always exist if the media performs its role.
Samoa is no exception.
This is where we need journalists who are critical thinkers and are not afraid to ask the hard questions
Let me remind again that men and women of the media are supposed to be the eyes and ears of the public, holding public officials to account for the decisions they make and how they spend money and public resources. Journalists should never be lapdogs.
Long live press freedom in Samoa and the world!