by Alan Ah Mu
APIA: THURSDAY 11 JULY 2013: The umbrella organisation for media, Journalists Association of (Western) Samoa, wants an independent lawyer to draft law to establish a media council, instead of the Attorney General.
This will be one of the issues JAWS’s executive intends to raise with Attorney General Aumua Ming Leung Wai when they meet tomorrow.
It follows a notice issued by the Attorney General dated 4 July to inform the media that he will draft legislation to establish a council to regulate media behaviour.
In a letter to the Attorney General dated 10 July JAWS president Uale Papali’i Taimalelagi says, this could be seen as the Government forcing its agenda on the media industry.
“The fear is that this could appear to be the Government dictating the processes and procedures that will govern and unduly restrict our freedoms as the Fourth Estate,” Taimalelagi says.
“We ask that our independent lawyer draft the legislation in question as this would provide an impartial and balanced approach to the law that will regulate our industry,” he says.
The JAWS president raised several other issues arising from Aumua’s notice as seen below:
10th July 2013
Aumua Ming Leung-Wai
Office of the Attorney General
Level 6, TATTE Building
We note with interest, your letter to the media dated 4 July 2013, printed in the Samoa Observer on 7th July 2013. The letter was copied to Samoa Observer, Newsline, Samoa Broadcasting Corporation, TV3, Talamua and Iniini Samoa and emailed out to representatives of at least four other media organisations in this country.
The JAWS Executive met on the 8th July to discuss this interesting subject, and our discussions and points we would like to raise are outlined below.
1. Your notice to media not sent out to all media organisations.
The subject of a Media Council is an important issue that requires the attention of all industry members. As we are the Journalists Association of (W) Samoa, we were surprised that we were not included in your letter, along with several other members of JAWS being left out. Some of these missing members have queried us here at the JAWS Exec., asking why they were overlooked.
We believe JAWS was the first point of contact between the Samoa Law Reform Commission and the industry when the topic of a Media Council was brought up and it was at our first JAWS meeting where we called for the office of the SLRC to meet with us and clarify exactly what they were hoping to achieve with their research and consultations.
In our last two meetings of JAWS members only, we submitted our recommendations to SLRC re: set-up of a Media Council.
We have been an integral part of the Media Council talks so we note with interest and wonder why we have been left out of your notice to local media?
For your information, a Media Council was originally an initiative of JAWS from over ten years ago so this is not a new issue.
2. The time left to set up a Media Council.
You have correctly noted that a year has passed since the recommendations by SLRC for a Media Council were submitted to Cabinet. It is also correct that there has been little to no activity in the past year. However we would like to stress that the issue of a Media Council is not a simple matter and we have been deliberating over what was discussed. We are thankful to the Government for gently reminding us that time is of the essence but we entreat upon you to allow us the remaining 1 year left to put in place all that is required for a self-regulating Media Council.
3. JAWS is now aware that the Attorney General plans to be involved in drafting the legislation for a Media Council. This could be seen as the Government forcing the Government agenda on to our media industry.
The fear is that this could appear to be the Government dictating the processes and procedures that will govern and unduly restrict our freedoms as the Fourth Estate.
We ask that our independent lawyer draft the legislation in question as this would provide an impartial and balanced approach to the law that will regulate our industry.
4. We appreciate your offer to personally draft the legislation and we are more than certain you would undertake this task in good faith, and endeavour to do so in a transparent manner.
However, we maintain that the involvement of our independent lawyer would only lend credence to the process that we are currently facing – legislation for our media industry. This could possibly mitigate any criticisms your office may face in terms of political interference – with this unstoppable push for legislation – in to what is customarily an autonomous industry for countries with democratic systems of government.
5. We the JAWS Executive respectfully request that you allow some time to meet with us to discuss these issues as we believe that a personal exchange with your good self would allow us all to understand each other and have a fuller appreciation and knowledge of the next steps, most especially how we can all work together to ensure that legislation for a Media Council is reflective of the democratic principles that our country currently enjoys.
Thank you and we look forward to your response.
Uale Papali’i Taimalelagi
PRESIDENT OF JAWS