By Mata’afa Keni Lesa in Apia
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has attacked the Samoa Observer, accusing the nation’s only daily newspaper of being “nosy,” spreading “lies” and employing “kids” whose writing, he says, are misleading the public.
Tuilaepa issued his attack in response to the Samoa Observer’s coverage of the Legislative Assembly’s decision to ban the media from pre-Parliament briefings last week.
Speaking during his weekly media programme with Radio 2AP, Tuilaepa defended the decision, saying the media had no business being present during pre-Parliament briefings.
READ MORE: Samoa Observer’s editorial on the media ban – ‘Accountability critical’
“The truth is that the media should have never been allowed to poke their noses into this thing,” said Tuilaepa.
“The meeting is for Members of Parliament so they could be briefed [about the bills to be discussed in Parliament].
Tuilaepa said the Samoa Observer liked to meddle in things it had no business being involved in. He said that the newspaper wanted to be first [to report on laws] and yet the legislation had not reached the leaders of the country.
“This is kids stuff,” the Prime Minister said, adding that in Samoan culture, it was only appropriate “that this stuff should be known to the leaders first”.
“And here we have these kids poking their noses into legislation that is just being discussed.”
The Prime Minister also reminded that pre-Parliament briefings were fairly recent.
“What’s happening now is that if Parliament convenes on Tuesday, a special meeting is held for all Members of Parliament to attend, where the CEOs and relevant officials explain all the bills and legislation that will later be tabled and discussed in Parliament,” Tuilaepa said.
“This is necessary to keep all Members of Parliament informed and to make their work easier. It doesn’t stop a Cabinet Minister from explaining [a bill] during an actual Parliament session but at least when the Minister speaks, members would have already had an understanding of the bills.”
Tuilaepa said the briefings improved the work of Parliament.
“It’s a big help to make the Members of Parliament understand the bills, keeping in mind that legislation is not that simple.
“In the past, Members of Parliament were only given new laws just before a session opens and there was no proper explanation. There was only be a brief from the minister when the bill was tabled for the second reading.”
The Prime Minister said the right time for the media to report on Parliamentary proceedings was when the House was in session.
“That is the right time for them,” Tuilaepa said.
“I think these newspapers should order (fa’atonu) these kids who don’t understand. All they’re doing is reporting wrong information about laws that haven’t been discussed by leaders, which in turn misleads people.”
He also rejected suggestions that the ban on the media was restricting the public’s right to information.
“Keep in mind those days are different from these days. Remember, the reason why they (media) come is because they want to understand.”
Today, Tuilaepa said “e leai se mea e kaoga aku ai fua i kokogu.” (There is no need for them to be in there).
“The Government is explaining everything on Radio 2AP, this is also on digital and Facebook so there are three ways where these [explanations] are being publicised.
“So these kids-like opinions making it look like the Government has prohibited the releasing of information is a reflection of the decision to employ kids to write stories.”
It was then the Prime Minister again turned on the Samoa Observer.
“That’s why the Observer is always wrong and when they bring stuff, we make an effort to correct them, or even take them to Court, because they are wrong,” he said.
“Maybe this [conversation with 2AP] is useful so the Observer can hire boys and girls who are educated to write their stuff and know where to go.”
Tuilaepa also accused “newspapers” of spreading misinformation. He said this was why the government’s decision to live stream his media interviews was important.
“The newspapers have been spreading lies overseas which stir up trouble and cause people to be jealous,” he said.
“This is why so many Samoans overseas appear to have the wrong thinking. It is because of the way these matters are being reported just to try and sell their newspapers and yet it is creating friction between the government and Samoans overseas who hate the government.
“And yet nothing bad is happening.”
Tuilaepa added that the media was only interested in negative stories.
“With some people, they come and say to me, Sole, looking at the reports, it appears the only thing Samoan elderly men are doing is violating their daughters,” Tuilaepa said.
“But that’s because of the reports from here saying that the country is at war. See the kind of thinking being created by these people [news media].”
Quotes taken from a translation of what the Prime Minister said in Samoan. The transcript of the Samoan interview is on page 70 of the Sunday Samoan today. Mata’afa Keni Lesa is editor of the Samoa Observer. His editorial on the issue is here.