AFTER a period of intense mutual antipathy, a change of leadership in Samoa brought a thaw in relations between the Government and the independent media. At a celebration in August 2003 of the 25th anniversary of the Samoa Observer, the islands’ only seven-day-a-week newspaper, the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, suggested the press should consider introducing a code of practice. In fact, such a code existed and was operational, having been adapted by the Journalists Association of Western Samoa (JAWS) from a U.S. model some years previously.
However, the executive of JAWS felt that it was indeed time that Samoa had its own, tailor-made Code and, possibly, a self-regulatory Media Council to adjudicate upon alleged breaches of it. JAWS therefore sought assistance from The Thomson Foundation and, with support from the Commonwealth Media Development Fund, I was invited to Samoa to undertake a consultancy.
The Thomson Foundation saw this is a two-part operation:
· Stage One: I should visit Samoa to establish whether there was support for a Code and what form it should take if it were to command wide industry and public respect. On my return I would draft a Code, reflecting Samoa’s needs and aspirations, which would be sent to all interested parties for consultation, and in the light of that, a final Code broadly acceptable to the industry would be adopted and introduced.
· Stage Two: If and when there was general agreement on a Code, I should return to Samoa to investigate the support for a self-regulatory Media Council and whether it was desirable, practical, workable, what form it would take, its remit, mode of operation, and possible funding.
In fact, it was necessary to revise this strategy slightly. The form a Code of Practice might take is dictated in part by whether or not there is some sort of adjudicatory body to support it. A Code that relies on the self-discipline of the media to follow its rules would need to be solely prescriptive. The existence of a Media Council, in which both the media and the public have a trust, enables a qualitative Code to be written which is less prescriptive and more interpretive, according to prevailing circumstances and standards.
To determine which kind of Code should be drafted, I therefore added to the brief of the Stage One visit the need to establish whether there was support in principle for an adjudicating Media Council, subject to general agreement on its form, composition, funding and remit.
I spent 13 days in Samoa, consulting widely with members of the media, Government and civil society, and gave a seminar presentation on the principles of self-regulation to a small, invited audience. I am extremely grateful for the time, patience and unfailing courtesy, wisdom and hospitality, which I received throughout my stay, and offer my warmest thanks to all those who contributed to it.

Ian Beales, January 2005


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