THE CLIMATE FOR PRESS FREEDOM CONTINUED TO IMPROVE, with the government of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi apparently determined to shed the previous regime’s reputation for corrupt and autocratic rule. One impetus for the turnaround were the high-profile convictions of two former cabinet ministers who had been charged with plotting the assassination of a reformist politician. During the trial, evidence emerged that one of the accused had also tried to murder the country’s most prominent journalist, Savea Sano Malifa, editor and publisher of the Samoa Observer, the only local daily newspaper.
For years, the Observer had faced relentless pressure from the politically powerful, including former prime minister Tofilau Eti Alesana, for reporting on official corruption and abuse of power. That pressure most often came in the form of costly lawsuits, which nearly bankrupted the paper. Though criminal libel and defamation laws remain on the books, there were no new cases filed against journalists in Samoa last year.
The privately owned Radio Polynesia, which operates three commercial FM stations, resumed its local news service, suspended in March 1999 after years of political pressure. And in the summer, Supreme Court judge Andrew Wilson ordered the government to grant the political opposition access to state media, which have grown increasingly independent within the past year, according to local journalists.