14 March 1999

Alert

American Samoans urged to boycott airline over "Samoa Observer" threats


Incident details

Savea Sano Malifa and Aumuagaolo Ropeti Ale

media worker(s)

threatened


(PINA/IFEX) - American Samoan newspapers have rallied to the support of
the
embattled "Samoa Observer" newspaper in the neighbouring independent
nation
of Samoa. They have called for American Samoans to stand up for freedoms
they are guaranteed and follow the example of their mother country, the
United States, and sever economic and political ties with countries
which do
not allow their people freedom.





**Updates IFEX alerts of 10 March, 4 March, 26 February, 22 February, 17
February and 25 January 1999**


The calls follow efforts by the Samoan Government-owned Polynesian
Airlines
to jail "Samoa Observer" publisher Savea Sano Malifa and editor
Aumuagaolo
Ropeti Ale for alleged contempt of court. Samoa's chief justice is due
to
rule on 16 March 1999 (local time) on an application by Polynesian
Airlines
for Malifa and Ale to be put in Apia's Tafaigata Prison.


The three-times-a-week "Samoa Post" called for American Samoans to
boycott
Polynesian Airlines. The newspaper said in an editorial that as Samoa's
closest and nearest neighbour, American Samoa should not sit idly by
"watching while another part of ourselves is being abused and
oppressed."


"Anyone who flies Polynesian Airlines from now on is supporting a
company
that is seeking to deny freedom," said the "Samoa Post. "It said
Polynesian
Airlines should not be allowed to enjoy the luxury and freedom of doing
business in American Samoa and yet seek imprisonment against other
ethnic
Samoans for criticising "possible corruption." "Samoa Post" declared
that
Polynesian Airlines should be punished and everyone in American Samoa
should
boycott Polynesian Airlines flights and travel instead on Samoa Air, an
American Samoan airline. Both Polynesian Airlines and Samoa Air operate
about five daily flights between Pago Pago, American Samoa, and Apia,
Samoa.


American Samoa's daily newspaper, the "Samoa News," called on the
leaders of
American Samoa to protest the move by Polynesian Airlines and the Samoa
government to muzzle the "Samoa Observer." It suggested that the
territory
bans the Samoa government inter-island ferry which operates between the
two
Samoas.


Background Information


Polynesian Airlines claims Malifa and Ale disobeyed a Supreme Court
injunction granted to the airline on 15 February 1999 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.


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. The Malifas and the "Observer" have been awarded the PINA
Pacific Freedom of Information Award, the Commonwealth Press Union's
Astor
Award and Index on Censorship's media freedom award for their defence of
freedom of information and expression in Samoa.


Independent news media and journalists in Samoa 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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