Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Samoa
As of December 31, 1998

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In a move emblematic of the deteriorating climate for the press and following on the heels of a 1997 law compelling reporters charged with libel to reveal their sources, the Samoan government announced in May that officials could use public funds to pursue civil libel claims. Such suits, brought by officials vexed by news coverage of corruption and irregularities, have become drearily routine.

In September, the Supreme Court awarded Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana a $40,000 judgment against Savea Sano Malifa, editor and publisher of the Samoa Observer -- the latest blow to the nation's only daily newspaper. The prime minister had sued the paper for defamation over a 1997 story claiming that public funds were used to upgrade a hotel owned by Tofilau's children in preparation for a visit by Britain's Prince Edward.

After the ruling, Malifa said he may be forced to sell the paper because of mounting legal expenses. In 1994, the paper's printing press was burned down in a mysterious fire, and Malifa and his family have received death threats. Malifa's plight drew international attention in 1998 when he received the Commonwealth Press Union's Astor Award for press freedom.

Other journalists have also faced intimidation in their attempts to report on those in high office. The assistant editor of the weekly Samoan-language newspaper Samoa Post, Molesi Taumaoe, reported that Telecommunications Minister Leafa Vitale threatened him with death in May to prevent the newspaper from publishing a letter containing allegations of corruption against the minister.

The government continues to bar opposition politicians from appearing on the island's sole television station, which is state-run.
Attacks on the Press in Samoa in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
07/06/98 Samoa Observer Legal Action

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