20 Jun 2016

Samoa Observer condemned for 'failure of standards'

5:09 pm on 20 June 2016

The decision by one of Samoa's major newspapers to publish a picture of a transgender woman who died in a suspected suicide has stirred outrage.

The Pacific Freedom Forum, a regional media group, said the publication on the Samoa Observer's front page of a graphic photo of the scene, as well as the story's tone, showed a shameful failure of standards at the paper.

It also condemned the newspaper's constant referral to the 20-year-old woman as being male, despite transgender women being a long-accepted part of Samoan culture.

Pacific Freedom Forum spokesperson Jason Brown said the story breached journalism ethics and common decency, adding that responsibility should lie with the newspaper's management.

There are no suicide reporting laws in Samoa, but Mr Brown said basic ethics should have been taken into consideration, and the story was a case of the Samoa Observer "not thinking it through".

"The reporter is ordered to get all the facts, and that's what reporters are paid to do," Mr Brown said.

"It's then up to the editor to exercise editorial discretion and show some common decency and show some ethics and not upset family, friends, and the general public further, in what is already a deeply upsetting incident."

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said he was appalled by the front page, and used it to stress his desire for a media council to provide oversight of the country's media.

"What the editor of the Observer has shown to Samoa and the world is that he is above any moral or professional obligation to report ethically and responsibly," Tuilaepa said in a statement.

"Like many others, I was appalled at the front page of the Sunday Observer, showing the lifeless body of a young person with such callousness and disrespect."

Samoa Observer chief editor Savea Sano Malifa said the story had been blown out of proportion, and the newspaper had been given the photo to publish and had spoken to the family.

He blamed the internet for the widespread criticism it had received: "People die all the time. Journalists should go for the truth, and the truth is what we published."

"There was very little response to the story here in Samoa, most of it came from overseas," Savea said. "That was where the criticism came from, but here in Samoa it was very little."