Friday, December 13, 2013

Talanei Runs Faleomavaega "Tribute" to Mandela

The website has published Delegate Faleomavaega's "tribute" to the late Nelson Mandela but it is unclear from the wording of the story whether this tribute was delivered in the House of Representatives or just sent over for insertion into the Congressional Record. The only legitimate sources for news in American Samoa are the daily Samoa News newspaper and Radio KHJ-FM, which has a small, one-person news department. There is also a local television station that has a daily newscast but it is owned by the government and has no independence. It is a component of a department whose director is a member of the governor's cabinet so it has no credibility whatsoever.

We have written much about Samoa News but more people listen to the radio than buy the paper, so KHJ-FM is important, especially since the news director also strings for Radio New Zealand International. Much of what the rest of Polynesia knows about American Samoa comes from RNZI. KHJ-FM also operates a companion website,, which carries the stories heard on the radio. Because there are no space limitations on the internet, the website often carries expanded versions of stories that have been aired and also uses stories that don't make it on the air at all. Because we don't monitor all the radio newscasts, we have no way of knowing if KHJ mentioned Faleomavaega's tribute to Nelson Mandela on the radio but the story was on on December 9 under the headline "Congressman pays tribute to Mandela."

Starting "Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin has paid tribute to former president and anti-apartheid leader of South Africa Nelson Mandela," the story goes on to quote Faleomavaega liberally and then concludes by saying "Faleomavaega's remarks were entered into the Congressional Record for historical purposes." The statement raises a number of questions:
  • What exactly does that last sentence mean? 
  •  Did Faleomavaega go to the House chamber, make his remarks from the lectern then ask that they be inserted in the Record for historical purposes or was this statement just sent over to the Clerk for insertion without having ever been uttered at all? 
  • Was this all just for show so that a press release could be issued in hopes the local media dutifully would carry it without asking any questions? 
  • Did ask any of these questions of the delegate's office? 
  • If not, are KHJ-FM and being complicit in a possible cover up of Faleomavaega's physical health condition?

We will give KHJ-FM and the same advice we have given Samoa News: seek verification of anything disseminated in Faleomavaega's name. If they will not let you interview or at least speak to him briefly on the matter in question, simply refuse to publish or broadcast it or do so with the caveat that you cannot verify the authenticity of the document and explain why not.

Congress is going into recess, so Faleomavaega will not be expected to be in Washington for any official duties for the next few weeks. So no one will need to cover for him. January is another matter.  Ask some basic questions:
  • Will he be here for the opening of the Fono, as is customary? 
  • Will the media ask Fono leaders if they will extend to him an invitation to address a joint session, as they have done in the past? 
  • Will he be participating in any fact-finding missions to Asia or elsewhere in January, as he has done so often in the past? 
  • Will he be attending President Obama's State-of-the-Union address?
  • There also is major budget legislation that must be enacted by mid-January. Will Faleomavaega be able to advocate American Samoa's interests in the deliberations? 
These are all relevant questions that are on the minds of the people and the media should be asking them or readers' and listeners' behalf. January is also the start of an election year. Will Faleomavaega seek re-election? When Eni was down here running his first campaign for Congress 34 years ago, a congresswoman from Maryland had a stroke and was in a coma on election day but still won with 80% of the vote and was seated in absentia the following year. Unless he is in some sort of vegetative state himself, Eni likely recalls that precedent and surely his staff does. So is it possible they will go to elaborate lengths to keep the truth about his health from the public in hopes they can replicate Spellman's victory? Sadly she never regained consciousness and the House eventually was forced to declare her seat vacant but she remained in a coma for another eight years before dying.

Maybe the staff fear that he will be forced to resign and lose his congressional health care benefits (and they their jobs). The Samoan people are a compassionate people and would never demand that he do that. All we want to do is to know the truth. We suspect that neither RNZI nor AP, whose stringer is on Samoa News staff, would be happy to discover that the "news" they were being fed from the island was based on government hand outs rather than old fashioned original reporting.

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