Kalafi Moala: A word on the Samoa Observer suicide report

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Le Va, in partnership with Pasifika media, has launched the “Pasifika media guidelines for reporting suicide”. This whiteboard video provides an overview.

OPINION: By Kalafi Moala in Nuku’alofa

A brother has made a terrible mistake. He has, however, taken responsibility for it and has apologised. Those of us who are offended need to offer forgiveness in the spirit of Pacific compassion, and move on.

Gatoa’itele Savea Sano Malifa, founder and editor-in-chief of the incredibly successful Samoa Observer, admitted it was a mistake for the Sunday Samoan edition of his newspaper to have reported on the suicide of a 20-year-old transgender woman, Jeanine Tuivaiki; and especially to publish a photo of the lifeless body of the deceased.

I have known Savea for almost 30 years, and he is one of the most professional and enduring journalists in our region. He has also been very successful in building a news organisation, and a daily publication that has made all of us Pacific people proud.

The Samoa Observer group.
The Samoa Observer group.

The Samoa Observer has a code of ethics, and Savea is one whom I know to advocate passionately for the need for media organisations to have a code of ethics.There is no excuse for mistakes so blatant as this suicide report, and I would be the last one to offer any justification for what the Samoa Observer did.

Reactions to the Sunday Samoan report has been largely fair, and reasonable. Media is often the harshest critic of itself, but criticism is usually left with a close-ended condemnation without any solutions.

We also need to be reasonable, compassionate, and be balanced in our judgments.

-Partners-

Balanced criticism
The Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has given a very balanced criticism of the Observer. He is a wise friend of media to have done so without resorting to a “ban the media” mentality.

I found Sandra Kailahi’s offer of using a guideline she has written on suicide reporting very helpful indeed. But that’s what we need to do, to help each other when mistakes are made, and then move on to do what we have been called to do in each of our countries and societies.

Part of the controversial Sunday Samoan front page on June 19.
Part of the controversial Sunday Samoan front page article on June 19.

There is really no time to get vicious and to use this occasion as an opportunity to exact retribution on Savea and his organisation, for it is not really helpful, even in this situation.

I have read most of the criticism and attacks made on Savea and his organisation. I have also been invited to join the condemnation. But before I consider doing so, I need to look back also at my own news organisation, and publication, and ask what mistakes we’ve made in our 28 years of operation. I am ashamed to say that we made quite a few mistakes ourselves over the years.

The key however is to recover, correct course, and move on with the business of providing information for our people.

This is not the time to pick up stones and throw at Savea and the Samoa Observer. Let us not forget the incredible contribution he has made to Samoa and Pacific media for over 30 years. He has not only been inspirational to many of us, he has also helped in providing employment, training youth in journalism, and also speaking out without fear in his watchdog role.

Journalism is a profession that often walks the edge of risky engagement, and is demanding of every ounce of professionalism from us. We are bound to make mistakes now and then. But, can we also learn, make corrections and move on?

Not helpful
It is not helpful to get on an “anti-Sano, anti-Samoa Observer” bandwagon. I believe we are mature enough in our Pacific media roles to criticise Savea and the Samoa Observer fairly, but at the same time be embracing and helpful.

The Observer will still be going on strong tomorrow, next week, and in the future. We need to support our brother, even after we’ve expressed our disappointment. He is one of us. If he has failed, let us encourage him to “fail forward” so that we can all learn and continue to do what we need to do, in a spirit of co-operation and loving partnership.

Kalafi Moala is the chief executive and publisher of the Taimi ‘O Tonga group and vice-chair of the Pasifika Media Association (PasiMA). He is also on the editorial board of Pacific Journalism Review.

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