26 February 1999

Alert

"Samoa Observer" to appeal judge's continuing restraint order


Incident details

legal action


(PINA/IFEX) - A Samoan judge has refused to lift his injunction
preventing the "Samoa Observer" newspaper from publishing leaked details
of allowances and advances paid to senior staff of the Samoan-government
owned Polynesian Airlines (PAL). In a lengthy decision delivered in the
Supreme Court in Apia on 24 February 1999, Justice Andrew Wilson upheld
his original decision. "Samoa Observer" publisher Savea Sano Malifa and
editor Aumuagaolo Ropeti Ale had sought the lifting of the injunction,
which prevented distribution of the 16 February edition of the daily
newspaper. Malifa said the "Samoa
Observer" would appeal against the latest decision because of the
"threat of censorship."





**Updates IFEX alerts of 22 February, 17 February and 25 January 1999**


Justice Wilson said the leaked information was proven to be
confidential. To allow the "Samoa Observer" to publish it would have an
adverse effect on talks Polynesian Airlines is having with potential
partners and suppliers, he said. He said Polynesian Airlines had shown
the "Samoa Observer" was "in the business of misuse of the information"
contained in the leaked document. He also said whilst freedom of speech
and expression are guaranteed in Samoa's constitution "it must be
remembered that it is not an unrestricted
right."


The 16 February edition of the newspaper contained a story titled:
"'Nothing illegal' about $720,605 (US$246,521) advances, says deputy
CEO." Also in the same edition was an editorial titled: "Airline staff
and their $726,600 in advances, allowances," and another report titled:
"PAL old debt increases to $116.6m instead." The 3000-circulation
newspaper had been printed and was about to be distributed when the
judge's injunction was served. It forced the "Samoa Observer" to lose
the whole edition.


PINA has strongly criticised the use of court injunctions to prevent
publication. It has also questioned the willingness of some Pacific
Islands courts to grant such injunctions without both sides being
represented.


Background Information


Malifa and his wife Jean are previous winners of the PINA Pacific
Freedom of Information award. They received this for their courageous
defence of the right of the Samoan people to freedom of information and
expression. In 1998 they were awarded the Commonwealth Press Union's
Astor Award and "INDEX on Censorship" press freedom award.


The "Samoa Observer", which was founded by the Malifas, is Samoa's only
daily newspaper and main independent news voice. The government-run
national radio and TV services are heavily controlled by the government.
The opposition's access to the government media is severely restricted.


Independent news media and journalists have faced increasing pressure
after highlighting reports alleging growing corruption and abuse of
public office.


The "Samoa Observer" printing plant was burnt down under highly
suspicious circumstances; Malifa assaulted by relatives of a government
minister; death threats made to Malifa and his family; government
advertising withdrawn from the newspaper; threats made to impose
newspaper licensing; and a law introduced requiring journalists in libel
actions to reveal their sources.


Malifa and the "Observer" continue to face mounting legal costs because
of criminal and civil libel actions against them over their reports and
a letter published in the paper. The actions have been mounted by former
Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana and other government ministers. The
government has said it will provide public money to pay the legal costs
of Tofilau and other ministers and government leaders who sue for libel
(see IFEX alerts).









Source

Pacific Islands News Association
Level 2, 46 Gordon Street, Damodar Centre
Private Mail Bag, Suva
Fiji Islands
pina (@) connect.com.fj
Fax:+679 3317055
Samoa
 
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