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Former journalist head praises media law

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The establishment of a media council in Samoa is a way forward for the industry.

It does not restrict media freedom.

Those are comments from the former President of the Journalists Association of [Western] Samoa (J.A.W.S.) Susuga Uale Papali’i Taimalelagi after what was said to be the final consultation on the second draft of the Media Council Bill 2014.

The purpose of the proposed Act is to promote professional journalism and integrity in the news media, while observing fundamental rights under Part II of the Constitution. The consultation was held at one of the conference rooms on level 4 of the Government Building yesterday afternoon.

The original venue was at the office of the Prime Minister, on level 5. Turning J.A.W.S. into a legislative body is very important, said Mr. Taimalelagi. Once this is done the Media Council will be a branch of J.A.W.S. Under the draft, the association appoints members to sit on the council.

These shall include a lawyer with at least 5 years experience, or judge and has no direct interest in the Association, as chairperson, five media representatives, and five community representatives.

These members should provide a fair representation of Samoa based upon gender, employment, educational background and community interests; and ensure that no gender has less than 3 members of the total membership of the Council says the draft.

And a media council would be a way to use the J.A.W.S. Code of Practice, said Mr. Taimalelagi. Journalists that breach this code of practise would no longer have to go through the courts to answer to any of these violations.

Instead the complainant can refer the matter to the Media Council for a decision.

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Mr. Taimalelagi insisted that this function of the council would not only save time but is an inexpensive process unlike what the situation would be if such matters have to go through the court.

The importance of establishing a media council is to enhance the standards in serving the media industry, he said.

A media council would make journalists “accountable” for what they report on and how it’s reported. Mr. Taimalelagi said it is important to remember the two aspects in reporting - that is to be balanced and accurate.

If those two things are considered and the article is written with these two things in mind then there won’t be any problems with defamation or other reasons for complaints to be made. Journalists need to be present during any event so that they are aware of what has occurred, he said.

They must also not put their opinions in articles. Although there is “a lot” of support from across the industry for a media council to be established Mr. Taimalelagi admitted there are some who have different views on the matter.

He believes they are supportive of the idea but again have different views on establishing a council. But he strongly believes that constructive criticism is a way forward for the industry.

“It is important that we incorporate other views different from that of the majority to set up a council,” he said. “It is important that we must respect that there are others with different views from ours.”

He said the difference in opinion in the establishment of a media council is due to a fear of restrictions on the media. But he is adamant that the council is not being established for that to happen.

“The media freedom will always be there - we will be free time after time. “This is not being established to restrict our freedom as the media.”

The final bill is expected to be introduced in Parliament in May or June. Attorney General Lawyer Constance Rivers and a colleague, Leitu Moananu, attended the consultation specifically to discuss the bill.

She however pointed out that the bill needs to be referred to the Legislative Assembly to be translated.

“So there is no chance of it being introduced in Parliament on 18 March in the next Parliamentary sitting”, she said.

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