Sunday Samoan condemned for ‘disgusting, degrading’ reporting of death


Le Va, in partnership with Pasifika media, has launched the “Pasifika media guidelines for reporting suicide”. This whiteboard video provides an overview. See Samoa Observer’s apology below.

Mounting anger over the weekend reporting of the death of a Samoan transwoman in Apia has spilled over into New Zealand with prominent transrights campaigner Phylesha Brown-Acton saying the Samoa Observer’s coverage has left her “absolutely disgusted”, reports Gay NZ.

apr Jeanine_Tuivaiki_fbook
Jeanine Tuivaiki. Image: Facebook

On the front page of its Sunday Samoan edition the Samoa Observer showed a full-length image of Jeanine Tuivaiki’s lifeless body in a central Apia church hall. In the accompanying news story, the newspaper referred to Tuivaiki as “a man”, and used the words “he” and “his.”

“I am absolutely disgusted by the Samoa Observer and their front page photo of a young fa’afafine woman,” said Brown-Acton, who described the reporting as “completely inappropriate and disrespectful”.

“Where is the respect for this young person and her family? The use of such an image to sell newspapers is the lowest form of sales tactics and the editor and the reporter should be held accountable for such degrading journalism”.

The Samoa Observer followed up with a front page apology that critics saw as closer to a justification, which in turn has faced criticism on social media.

Headed “And if you’re offended by it still, we apologise,” chief editor Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa’s apology said the publication of the photo was “never meant to demean, vilify or denigrate”.

He wrote that over the recent past, a proposal by Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi to “change Samoa’s constitution to make Christianity the country’s sole  religion has drawn much opposition from other religions to the point that there is growing division in Samoa today”.

The photo had been in circulation on social media for a week and “if you’re offended by it still, all we can do is apologise”.

The "apology" from the Samoa Observer.
The “apology” from the Samoa Observer.

Brown-Acton said the newspaper, the biggest circulation newspaper in Samoa, had a “track record of misgendering, misclassifying and misrepresenting fa’afafine and continuing to portray and promote fear among community about fa’afafine”.

Postings on the Samoa Observer Facebook page and a #BeautifulJeanine hashtag have been hugely critical of the reporting.

The Cook Islands-based media monitoring group Pacific Freedom Forum said in a statement the “shameful” publication of the unedited photo of the dead woman “breaches common decency, not just ethics”.

Le Va says Pasifika media can play a key role in leading safe messaging in reporting suicide to Pasifika communities.

In partnership with Pasifika media, Le Va has launched “Pasifika media guidelines for reporting suicide in New Zealand”.


samoa observer apologyLet me say this is not an easy letter for me to write. Still, I feel duty-bound to write these words, since it is our duty to tell the public we serve, the truth.

The truth is that last week we made a sad mistake when we published a story on the late Jeanine Tuivaiki on the front page of the Sunday Samoan.

We now accept that there has been an inexcusable lapse of judgment on our part, and for that we are sincerely regretful.

Yesterday, we met with members of Jeannie Tuivaiki’s family at their home at Vaiusu, where we extended our sincere apologies, and we are now thankful that we have done so.

And so to Jeanine’s family we are very sorry.

To the LGBT community in Samoa and abroad, we offer our humble apologies.

We want you all to know, that there is never an intention on our part to denigrate or discriminate against anyone, at any time.

Over the years, the Samoa Observer has been a strong supporter of the fa’afafine community here in Samoa, through sponsorships and assistance with their community coverage.

Today, I sincerely apologise to our readers and members of the public, for coming out in the open this way. There is no other way to explain how it feels.

Since the story in question was published in the Sunday Samoan, an outpouring of irate letters of criticism from here in Samoa, and abroad were received.

We want to remind that whenever we make a mistake, we apologise as soon as possible.

It follows that all the letters criticising us over the handling of this matter, are published today in this edition.

We sincerely accept that we’ve made a mistake.

Gatoa’itele Savea Sano Malifa.
Samoa Observer, 21 June 2016

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