|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
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.