An alleged incident involving a Tahitian camera woman, during the official opening of the 48th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting at Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, has left some members of the media industry angry.
Heidi Kow Yieng was struck on the shoulder by one of the security officers at the venue as she was trying to protect her camera equipment from the rain.
Heidi told the Samoa Observer she is unclear what provoked the incident.
“Up until now, I don’t know why I was struck by one of the security guys on the shoulder,” she said. “I was at the back of the VIP tent because of the rain.”
She said she wasn’t injured but it has left a sour taste in her mouth.
“This type of behavior should not tolerated,” she said. “I was not in the way of the VIPs at all, I was just standing in the back of the tent because it was raining. I had nowhere else to go.”
Heidi said she does not wish to press charges.
“The issue started when there was no space allocated for the media and that’s why I went looking for a spot to protect my camera from the rain,” she said.
The incident has angered members of the local media. Veteran journalist, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia, is disappointed that this has happened in Samoa and has called on Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi to look in to the issue.
Autagavaia told the Samoa Observer this is something the Journalists Association of Samoa (JAWS) should have worked with PIFs officers on to ensure the media was looked after at the venue.
‘The ranking of Samoa is significant in terms of press freedom,” he said. “However, the journalists are still not being treated well when we do our work and it's something the Prime Minister and government need to look in to.
“This will give Samoa a bad name, yet it's over the actions of someone who has zero respect for journalists and the work we do.
“Host countries should be working together, with the media, not working against them. And also, we are journalists and not terrorists.”
Another veteran Pacific journalist, Monica Miller, expressed concerns about the incident.
“It was upsetting to hear that a colleague trying to capture Samoa's traditional welcoming of Pacific island leaders was collared by a policeman,” she said.
Ms Miller said it was raining and local and overseas journalists were trying to find places to protect their equipment. They were nowhere near interrupting the VIPs.
“Why the need for force? A camera woman being collared by a policeman? That amounts to assault. The officer should have asked her politely to move.
“I want to add that the media was not given any rules as to where or where not to go during the opening ceremonies. I think that would have helped prevent this unfortunate incident.
“An idea would be for JAWS to do a workshop for police and other public servants involved in hosting these major conferences in Samoa, on the dos and do nots of handling media personnel.”
It was not possible to get a comment from the Police.
But the ACEO of the Prime Minister’s Office, Renate Rivers, who is the local Coordinator of the Media Centre, said she has apologised to the Tahitian woman in question.
“I have since spoken to her and apologised for the incident,” she said.
“I have also spoken to our security coordinator and we discussed the incident. I spoke with the Tahitian reporter who explained that the security officer grabbed her arm in an attempt to remove her from the VVIP tent.
“I also spoke with the head of security and he confirmed the incident and said that the security officer was concerned about safety for our VVIP guests.”
Asked what action the government is likely to take, Ms Rivers said, “I don't see any further action as the reporter has decided not to take this issue any further. She has accepted my apology for the incident.
“In terms of government action, I think this reinforces a need for stricter control and access to guide the work of the media when they are covering these events.
“We must work together to provide a safe and secure experience for our visitors, working alongside other groups who are involved in these events, while also ensuring the work of the media is given the proper support it deserves.”
Overall, Ms Rivers said the meeting has been successful in terms of the media experience.
“We have tried hard to provide decent resources, reasonable and fair access, equal media opportunities for all accredited media, and support where needed to help everyone do a good job and get great coverage,” she said.
The ACEO added that that at any major event, there will always be issues and challenges.
“The government has worked hard to ensure that this forum runs as smoothly as possible, but the reality is nothing is ever perfect and there will always be challenges from which we can learn and improve upon for the future.”