The Stage One Report

1. The media landscape: Samoa has an ancient, distinctive and proud culture that belies the nation’s size. Its customs and values - centred upon the extended family and the communal obligations of village life within the Matai system, and underpinned by intense religious belief and strict observance - are deeply ingrained. The Samoan way of life is widely revered and there appears to be a general consensus for protecting its most positive elements as the nation develops.
2. The media is broadly supportive of this, and it is reflected in tone and approach of coverage. Tensions sometimes arise when traditional concepts - such as the power and autonomy of village councils - are challenged in the name of transparency, freedom of the individual and freedom of expression. Media codes are essentially about establishing a proper balance between rights and responsibilities. Any credible Media Code for Samoa would need to emphasise that balance.
3. Complaints about the media generally, as mentioned to me anecdotally, tended to be related to issues of a perceived lack of professionalism, often due to poor training of journalists and other media practitioners. This is not uncommon in small national media industries, and is being addressed in Samoa by the establishment of a media training course at the Polytechnic College and, in best-practice offices by structured in-house training, including on externally validated courses. The existence of a workable and enforceable Code of Practice has been found in many countries to be a form of training, by being a constant reminder of the ground rules and raising standards.
4. The most common complaints mentioned concerned basic errors of detail, ignorance of the law, failure to confirm facts, corroborate allegations, or to observe the rules of journalistic confidence; and poor editing of articles or broadcasts. Fairness and balance were also issues raised in relation to editorial matters, and false or dubious claims in advertising material.
5. Broadcasting impartiality: The perceived lack of political impartiality of the State broadcaster SBC was frequently mentioned. There seemed to be wide support for the view that SBC’s political coverage lacked balance, giving disproportionate airtime to the Government view compared with that of the Opposition.
6. This appeared to be a source of concern to many, accepted with resignation by some, and accepted as the Government’s inherent right by others. Areas of concern also included an alleged lack of access to the station by local organisations because of the practice of charging for airtime unless the item appeared in a news programme, and clumsy editing of imported films to censor sex scenes.
7. Support for a Code: I found widespread support for a Media Code among Government, Opposition, civil society and – most significantly – among media practitioners themselves. No media figure I encountered was publicly opposed and most were strongly supportive. However, one or two key figures, despite repeated contact, were not available for discussion, possibly because they were not members of JAWS1, but maybe for other reasons. It would be safest to assume they remain to be convinced. It would also be necessary to establish support from all significant overseas publishers of Samoan newspapers and magazines, such as those produced in New Zealand.
8. The general view was that the Code should be comprehensive and embrace as much of the media spectrum as practical, including the print media, broadcasting, advertising and, if possible, cinema films and advertising, and DVDs and video recordings bought or hired for private viewing.

9. Support for a possible Media Council, while very positive, was less clear-cut. Although all media practitioners to whom I spoke were prepared to support it in principle, some significant concerns were registered. Most involved questions of its composition, remit and funding, which are not uncommon, especially in a small nation with limited resources. These difficulties are, with goodwill, usually overcome. The removal of such stumbling blocks would form a major part of the second stage of this project.
10. However, one very senior media figure questioned the political wisdom of the media pursuing self-regulation to such lengths while seriously anti-media legislation, such as Criminal Defamation and the Publishers and Printers Acts remained on the Statute book as a major threat to media freedom in general, and investigative journalism in particular. It is a very real concern and will need to be addressed.
11. Government response: This provides an unrivalled opportunity for the Government of Samoa to consolidate the improvement in relations with the media achieved in recent years. From the Prime Minister down, I was given every assurance that the Government supported media self-regulation and I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of that. It is, of course, quite within the Government’s power to respond positively to the industry’s initiative on the Code of Practice, by repealing punitive anti-media legislation.
12. I was given the clearest indication that the Government would be prepared to do that, if a credible and working Code were adopted. If it stood by that, the Government would, at a stroke, remove a major obstacle to the establishment of a media council.
13. The purpose of a Code of Practice is to create a voluntary framework in which the rights and responsibilities of the media can be properly balanced. It should define the responsibilities of the media and the rights of the public, and tell them what there are entitled to expect. No Code can work unless it commands the broad respect of both the media and the public it serves. Once agreement is reached within the industry, the Code creates a level playing field, by unifying the media around a single set of principles to which they can all subscribe. This prevents one media house from being disadvantaged against another.
14. The tone of the Code is important to its chance of success. Some codes are high-sounding and prescriptive, full of moral precepts. However experience suggests that these are often honoured more in the breach than in the practice and are particularly unsuitable in areas with a history of minimal professional training, where they are likely to be seen as lofty and irrelevant.
15. The most successful Codes are usually those which set out acceptable minimum standards rather than improbably high ideals, however noble or worthy. That has been a guiding factor in drafting this Media Code for Samoa.
16. A single self-regulatory system covering print media, broadcasting, advertising and films is an ambitious concept. In most larger modern democracies, the regulatory systems for each media branch are separate and each has its own distinct code of practice, reflecting the differing legal status – i.e. whether it is licensed or not - and consequent obligations to the audience.
17. But having four different regulatory systems is rarely an option for countries, such as Samoa, where the number of expected complaints is likely to be small, and the cost disproportionate. However, the needs of each branch of the media, while often similar, are also sometimes markedly different and the Code must reflect that.
18. I have therefore drafted a set of interlinked Codes, aimed at providing both general and specific rules and guidance, for each media branch:
· The General Media Code is a light-touch regime, whose rules and principles would apply across the whole media spectrum, with differing degrees of relevance. It would be the only Code applying to the press, whose readers are self-selecting.
· The Code of Broadcasting Practice, covering radio and television, is more stringent, since broadcasting is licensed and by accepted convention has special obligations both in editorial and advertising content to an audience that often does not have an individual choice of service provider and is therefore not entirely self-selected.
· The Code of Advertising Practice incorporates rules both for non-licensed outlets - such as newspapers, magazines, and cinema - and for licensed TV and radio.
· The Cinema and DVD Code, is currently drafted as an indicative, advisory Code only, since it requires a harmonisation of classifications that is outside the immediate scope of this project and would need support from non-media organisations, such as general retailers who might sell or hire Video and DVD recordings.
19. In drafting the Codes, I have drawn widely on the experience of other relevant self-regulatory regimes, including the UK Press Complaints Commission, the Australian, New Zealand and Indian Press Councils, the Press Complains Commission of Sri Lanka, the Media Codes of Fiji, of Kenya, and of Papua New Guinea; the Ofcom Broadcasting Codes and broadcast advertising Codes of the UK, the BBC’s producer guidelines, the UK Independent Television News compliance manual, the Australian Commercial Television Industry Code, the UK Radio Code, and UK, Australian and New Zealand advertising standards codes.
20. Although guidance and principles are traditionally stated separately from the rules in media codes, I have wherever practicable deliberately combined them to illustrate more clearly the meaning and intention.
21. THE GENERAL MEDIA CODE, as drafted, sets out the purpose and philosophy of the Code. It covers the broad range of media obligations of accuracy, fairness, opportunity to reply; protection of privacy; intrusion into grief; protection of children; dealing with sensitive social issues; use of subterfuge; suicide reporting; plagiarism; confidential sources; crime reporting; discrimination against individuals; conflict of interest, misuse of privileged information, inducements and gifts; and appropriate sensitivity for the Samoan culture.
22. From the outset, the Preamble introduces twin themes running through the Code:
· Protection of the rights both of the individual and of the public’s right to know, with the balance struck by a public interest defence being available throughout the linked Codes to a greater or lesser extent. This is the mechanism by which a breach of the Code might be justified, for example, by the need to expose crime or corruption.
· The obligation to follow the Code not only to the letter, but also in the spirit, which is a feature almost unique to a voluntary self-regulatory system and is designed to avoid legalistic disputes, especially if an adjudicatory Media Council were to be established.
23. THE BROADCASTING CODE places particular emphasis on impartiality and balance, and the need to prevent unnecessary or unexpected harm or offence, especially to vulnerable people or children.
24. The need for reasonable political balance is stressed, as is a guide to radio and TV coverage of elections. Rules are also included to prevent sponsors from exercising undue influence, and to prevent undisclosed promotions being used in programmes.
25. Preventing harm or offence: There are two principal ways of achieving this in broadcasting:
· The use of scheduling to ensure that potentially offensive or harmful material is not broadcast at a time when the most vulnerable or susceptible groups would be viewing or listening; and
· Issuing and broadcasting advance guidance, warning parents or susceptible viewers that the content of a specific programme may cause alarm or distress.
26. Scheduling is particularly efficient where it is possible to isolate the audience within certain key viewing times, for example by defining a Watershed - such as 9pm - before which only viewing suitable for children, or under parental supervision, can normally be broadcast.
27. Watersheds: While watersheds remain relevant – particularly with free-to-air TV - they are becoming less practical in the emerging international linear media landscape where access to on-demand broadcasting via satellite is less clearly time zoned. Also, there is no clear watershed for radio. Crucially, watersheds do not work very satisfactorily in communities, such as Samoa, where social custom is for the children often to stay up with the parents until late into the evening, normally the most appropriate time for adult TV.
28. Guidance: This leaves advance on-screen guidance as the most attractive option for preventing vulnerable viewers from being confronted by alarming, offensive or unsuitable material unexpectedly. A proper system of guidance enables adult viewers to be their own gatekeepers of what they watch, preventing unnecessary distress or offence, while maintaining access for adults and less susceptible people to a wide range of drama, controversial debate and artistic content.
29. This may be the better option for Samoa, especially if a common system of content- labelling standards can be devised – in conjunction with the Censor’s office - across TV, cinema films, and video and DVD. For this reason, I have not suggested a classification system related to time-zoning of programmes. Instead, I recommend that attempts be made to introduce a uniform content-labelling system, common to all relevant media.
30. Children’s broadcasting would still need to be strictly overseen. The Code makes full and specific allowance for this in both editorial programming and advertising. However, parents are, ultimately, the appropriate gatekeepers for their children. The inherent strength of good and standardised guidance is that it allows them to exercise parental responsibility with real authority; effectively, it allows them to introduce their own watershed, directly suited to their family’s needs.
31. THE ADVERTISING CODE, as drafted, covers the full spectrum of consumer concerns. It includes the need for advertising to be clearly distinguishable as such; the obligation for it not to be misleading, deceptive or exploitative, or to cause unnecessary fear or harm, or to endanger safety.
32. It provides clear guidance on portrayal of people or individuals in advertisements, protecting them from abuse; and the consumer from being misled, a theme that dominates this section of the Code.
33. Socially-sensitive advertising: An indicative draft has been included on potentially socially sensitive advertising, such as for alcohol, liquor, gambling and medicines. This would need to be checked against existing laws and current in-house rules, where they exist, and would need to be advisory-only until general agreement was reached.
34. There are special sections on the specific requirements for broadcast advertisements both for adults and children. These go further than for general retail advertising in other media, reflecting the need to meet the greater obligations on licensed broadcasters.
35. Responsibility for compliance in any adjudicatory system, such as a Media Council, would be shared by the originators of the advertisement and the media service provider publishing or broadcasting it. In reality, the principal responsibility would be on broadcasters and publishers since they – rather than general retailers or advertisers – would be party to the Media Council.
36. THE CINEMA AND VIDEO/DVD CODE would have similar problems because, while the cinema proprietors might be expected to sign up to a Media Code, electrical and other general retailers selling or hiring DVDs and video recordings would not, and there might be difficulties in securing voluntary compliance. It is also unlikely that there would be complaints other than that the labelling was inadequate or misleading.
37. The Code therefore remains an indicative advisory model, pending further discussion (see para 27 above) on setting up a common system of content labelling, which is strongly recommended.
1 Membership of Jaws should not be an issue: the organisation accepts it should not have ownership of a Code which would need the active support of all media outlets, whether members of JAWS or not.


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