15 July 1998
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is
deeply disturbed by an ongoing legal campaign against
the Samoa Observer that now threatens to put
the country's only independent daily newspaper out of
On July 6, the Samoan Supreme Court found the
Samoa Observer guilty of civil defamation
against Your Excellency, assessing damages at 50,000
tala (approximately US$16,000). The Observer's
editor and publisher, Savea Sano Malifa, has told
Agence France-Presse (AFP) that he may have to sell
the newspaper in order to pay mounting legal debts.
Malifa says that his lawyers fees already total nearly
230,000 tala (about US$76,000), and the paper still
faces a separate charge of criminal defamation due to
be heard in court on July 27.
"It's getting too much. I cannot keep going this
way," Savea said to AFP. "It is costing us a lot of
money and we cannot afford it&emdash;the headaches,
the frustrations, and the disappointments."
The decision taken by your government on May 15 to
make public funds available to finance defamation
suits by high-ranking public officials has created an
atmosphere that seems hostile to the development of a
free press. As Faumina Lance Polu, the president of
the Journalists Association of Western Samoa, said
when this new policy was announced, "It is another
clamp-down on the freedom of information and
expression in Samoa. . . . Most would opt not to make
an attempt to cover a sensitive story."
The Samoa Observer warned that with
government officials free to take cases to court at no
personal cost, the news media would be effectively
deterred from investigating allegations of corruption.
While CPJ understands that the Observer has
been a particularly trenchant voice in the country, we
believe that all journalists should be free to publish
stories that might be controversial and may even
offend those in power.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to
defending the rights of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ
is concerned that there seems to be a growing tendency
in Samoa to silence dissenting voices and punish
critical speech. According to the Pacific Islands News
Association (PINA), government ministers are
considering withdrawing the license of your country's
only independent radio station, Radio Polynesia, even
as the remaining radio and television stations are
almost completely state-controlled.
In 1997, CPJ noted Your Excellency's efforts to
revoke the Samoa Observer's business license
for "stirring up trouble." And, while the government
has made it easier for political figures to bring
defamation cases against the media, journalists
involved in libel actions are not only required to
bear the high costs of litigation, but to reveal their
CPJ urges your government to reconsider its present
course of action, remembering that freedom of speech
is guaranteed by your constitution precisely because
it so important to the health of a nation, and we
respectfully ask that you drop all charges against the
Samoa Observer in light of the fact that the
survival of this newspaper is vital to the public
interest in Samoa.
Thank you for your attention. We await your
Ann K. Cooper