Govt’s criminal libel move ‘serious concern’

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu ,

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Rudy Bartley, Acting President, J.A.W.S. (inset) Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.

Rudy Bartley, Acting President, J.A.W.S. (inset) Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.

The Acting President of the Journalists Association of Western Samoa (J.A.W.S.), Rudy Bartley, is calling on the government to find “a more realistic” solution to track “ghost writers” who use fake social media pages to attack members of the public.

He believes the move to reintroduce the Criminal libel law, which had been removed in 2013, is not the best way forward for Samoa. 

“As President, I believe the re-introduction of the Criminal Libel law is a serious concern and it will have a negative impact on the work of the media in Samoa,” said Mr. Bartley. 

“Freedom of the media (to do its work) is fundamental to any democracy and laws which hinder this is not acceptable.” 

Mr. Bartley made the comments in response to questions from the Samoa Observer.

Last month, the government announced that the Attorney General’s Office had been tasked to look into reintroducing the Criminal Libel law, as part of efforts to address the growing number of “ghost writers” who use fake social media pages to attack members of the public.  

One such page is known as “Ole Palemia”.  

According to Mr. Bartley, J.A.W.S. exists to help, develop and protect the work of the media and its practitioners in Samoa. 

 “We are also concerned about the use of social media as a platform for slander and malicious attacks,” Mr. Bartley pointed out.

“I assume this is the reason why the government is reintroducing this law. 

“Those behind these attacks have tarnished the work and integrity of the media as a source of knowledge and information for our people.” 

He also told the Samoa Observer the government should find a more realistic - practical solution other than reintroducing this law. 

He explained the reason J.A.W.S. has not made any public comment about the issue until now is that they wanted to discuss this further with their membership at their upcoming A.G.M. scheduled for 27 November 2017. 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi earlier this month denied suggestions that his government’s decision to revive the Criminal Libel law, which had been abolished in 2013, is part of a move to restrict freedom of speech. 

In hindsight, Tuilaepa said he regrets the decision to remove Criminal Libel from the law books in the first place. 

 “I should’ve never abolished this law which caters to protect victims of defamation,” he said. 

 “There have been writings that accuse me of being a dictator (in relation to the Criminal Libel). But it is not my law. They (writers) are in favor of those doing the damage. What about those who are victims of defamation?  

“This is a Christian move to protect the victims who are being defamed. This law is designed as a refuge to people whose names and reputations have been ruined.” 

Tuilaepa added that Commission has been set up to help reinstate the Criminal Libel law. Tuilaepa said this law was for people who had been defamed online by faceless bloggers and social media commentators.  

“This law will target only those who defame individuals and tarnish their good names. This is their safe haven.” 

Looking back, Tuilaepa said: “In the small time the said law was abolished, defamation has increased significantly here in Samoa.  

Tuilaepa said this law was put in place by previous Members of Parliament.  

“When it was my time; maybe I was a bit too kind,” he said. “With confidence that those who defamed others were no longer in existence, it is why I abolished that law.  

“But now I know, the previous Members of Parliament knew what they were doing.”

© Samoa Observer 2016

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