Pacific News Minute: Samoa Reinstates Criminal Libel Law that Critics Say Will Cripple the Media

Jan 10, 2018

Credit Teinesavaii / Wikimedia Commons

The outspoken Prime Minister of Samoa said on television this week, that media organizations should rely on “official” information, and that it would be good if reporters were forced to reveal their sources. The statement followed passage of a law that makes libel a criminal offense in Samoa. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

Just before Christmas, Parliament approved the criminal libel law unanimously, after less than an hour of debate. It’s actually a re-instatement.

Criminal libel was repealed in Samoa five years ago. The government says it’s needed now, to identify bloggers who hide behind anonymity on social media. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi described it as a Christian move to protect low-income families who will now be able to seek justice for defamation.

Critics say the real aim is to unmask bloggers who use anonymity to attack senior government officials.

Mata’afa Keni Lesa, the editor of the Samoa Observer said that the law would be ineffective against faceless bloggers: “This is only designed to cripple the media,” he told RNZPacific and worried that it could be used to force reporters to reveal their sources.

The Prime Minister appeared to reinforce that concern, when he said it would be good if sources were unmasked: “The official information about government comes from this office,” he said, “not from office boys.”

Last year, Tuilaepa led the effort to change the constitution to formally declare Samoa a Christian state. After Australia changed its laws to legalize same sex marriage, he described that as an abomination that would never happen in Samoa. After a recent proposal to relax marijuana laws he again vowed never, saying that would be akin to legalizing murder.