Pacific Media Watch
Judge awards damages against Samoa Observer
Title -- 1729 SAMOA: Judge awards damages against Samoa Observer
Date -- 21 September 1998
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- IFEX/PINA, 20/9/98
Status -- Unabridged
IFEX - News from the international freedom of expression community
20 September 1998
ALERT UPDATE - SAMOA
Judge refuses Samoan Prime Minister full claim, but newspaper's costs mount
SOURCE: Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Suva
**Updates IFEX alerts of 15 July, 22, 20 and 14 May, 30 April, 11 March 1998; and 24, 15, and 4 December, 18 November, 31 October, 12 September and 24 May 1997**
(PINA/IFEX) - "Samoa Observer" editor-publisher Savea Sano Malifa and his newspaper have got another heavy financial blow. On 16 September 1998, the Samoa Supreme Court awarded Samoa's Prime Minister, Tofilau Eti Alesana, $WS75,000 court costs against them, in addition to the earlier $WS50,000 defamation judgement in the case. But, Justice Sir Gordon Bisson refused to award the full $WS549,441 sought by Tofilau for his legal costs. This included engaging law firms in Samoa, New Zealand, and Australia.
The judge said he took into account that, on a claim of damages for $WS400,000, the Prime Minister was only 12.5 percent successful with an award of $WS50,000. He said he also took into account that if Tofilau had "elected to open and give evidence in the usual way in support of his case there would have been a substantial saving in time and expense." He also said that Malifa and the "Observer" were successful in the principal legal argument of the case, which was strongly opposed by the Australian Queen's Counsel representing Tofilau. This is that recent New Zealand court decisions on qualified privilege for statements about the actions and qualities of current, former or aspiring members of parliament should apply to Samoa. The judge said this was "a proper development of the common law in the interests of freedom of speech and expression in political discussion, without removing the balance needed to prevent defamation." The judge said he did not take into account that the Prime Minister's case was being funded by the Samoan Government.
The civil action is over claims public funds were used to upgrade a hotel owned by Tofilau's children in preparation for a visit by Britain's Prince Edward. It is separate to a charge of criminal libel which Malifa and a Samoan-language section editor still face over a letter to the editor in the "Samoa Observer" strongly criticising Tofilau.
In an earlier faxed message to the PINA Secretariat in Suva, Malifa said he has already had to pay $WS230,000 in legal fees, while the Prime Minister's legal fees of $WS783,000 are being paid by the Samoan Government from public money (see IFEX alert of 20 May 1998).
The "Samoa Observer", which was founded by Malifa and his wife Jean, is Samoa's only daily newspaper and main independent news voice. In recent years, Samoa's independent news media and journalists have faced increasing pressure after highlighting stories alleging growing corruption and abuse of public office. The "Samoa Observer" printing plant was burnt down under highly suspicious circumstances; Malifa was assaulted by relatives of a government minister; government advertising was withdrawn from the newspaper; threats were made to impose newspaper licensing; and a law was introduced requiring journalists in libel actions to reveal their sources.
For further information, contact Nina Ratulele, Coordinator, PINA Pacific Freedom of Information Network, Pacific Islands News Association, PINA Private Mail Bag, Suva, Fiji Islands; Street Address; 46 Gordon Street, Level 2 Damodar Centre, Suva, Fiji Islands, tel: +679 303623, fax: +679 303943/302101, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (attention: Nina/PINA), Internet site: http://www.pressasia.org/PFA/
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