10 March 1999

Alert

Chief Justice reserves decision on "Samoa Observer" Two


Incident details

Savea Sano Malifa and Aumuagaolo Ropeti

media worker(s)

other


(PINA/IFEX) - Samoa's Chief Justice has reserved his decision on an
application by Samoan-government owned Polynesian Airlines to jail the
publisher and editor of the "Samoa Observer" newspaper for alleged
contempt
of court. Chief Justice Tiavaasue Falefatu Sapolu heard the airline's
application to jail publisher Savea Sano Malifa and editor Aumuagaolo
Ropeti
Ale. After hearing submissions from lawyers for the airline and Malifa
and
Ale on 9 March 1999, he said other work would prevent him giving his
decision before 16 March (local time).





**Updates IFEX alerts of 4 March, 26 February, 22 February, 17 February
and
25 January 1999**


Polynesian Airlines sought to bring Malifa and Ale before the court to
be
committed to Apia's Tafaigata Prison.


Polynesian Airlines claims Malifa and Ale disobeyed a Supreme Court
injunction granted to the airline on 15 February and upheld on 24
February.
This ordered Malifa, Ale and the "Samoa Observer" not to publish "any
article or story relating to the salaries, remuneration, allowances and
benefits paid to employees and higher ranking officers" of Polynesian
Airlines without the airline's permission. The airline claims that an
opinion piece headlined "Nothing illegal or have something to hide?" and
a
letter to the editor headlined "Polynesian and the IOC", both published
in
the "Sunday Samoan" of 28 February, breached the court order. The
"Sunday
Samoan" is the "Samoa Observer" company's Sunday edition.


Background Information


On 24 February, a Supreme Court judge refused to lift his injunction
preventing the "Samoa Observer" from publishing leaked details of
allowances
and advances paid to senior staff of Polynesian Airlines. On 16 February
the
3000-circulation newspaper had been printed, carrying reports about the
allowances and advances plus earlier large financial losses by the
airline.
It was about to be distributed when the judge's injunction was served.
As a
result the "Samoa Observer" lost all that day's edition. Malifa said he
would appeal against the judge's rulings because of the "threat of
censorship."


The "Samoa Observer", which was founded by Malifa and his wife Jean, 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 was assaulted by relatives of a government
minister;
death threats were made to Malifa and his family; government advertising
was
withdrawn from the newspaper; threats were made to impose newspaper
licensing; and a law was 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 government has said it will provide
public money to pay the legal costs of 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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