TV3’s John Campbell was staking out a local restaurant in an ill-fated attempt to corner the prime minister for a response to his controversial “missing aid millions"story on Campbell Live on September 29. When his lame door-stopping attempt failed – “we don’t do door-stopping in Samoa,” insisted one senior local journalist at the IFJ Pacific workshop – Campbell didn’t hesitate in branding Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi a “coward” for canning a promised interview at the last moment. The New Zealand Herald followed up with the same insult. (Actually, this isn’t the way Tuilaepa sees it. According to local media reports, the PM’s version of events is that the interview was lined up for November 4 and Tuilaepa wants to take Campbell and his crew on a tour of the inland aid areas where considerable progress has been made. He also wants Samoan TV journalists in on the act.)
Campbell told the country’s only daily newspaper, the feisty opposition publication Samoa Observer:
We had a formal agreement [with the PM, reportedly arranged through an Auckland legal go-between]. This is a man who has slagged us off for the past month. He slagged us off on Samoan TV, on TVNZ and on Australian radio – and Australia hasn’t even seen the story. When it comes to the crunch, he is too much of a coward to do an interview – he pulled out at the last moment.In an Observer editorial, editor-in-chief Savea Sano Malifa branded Campbell “Tuilaepa’s Kiwi nemesis”, explaining the TV journalist’s assignment in Samoa. He described the “real mission” as one to find out about how the millions of dollars donated in aid had helped improve the lives of tsunami victims since Campbell Live had reported on the disaster on 29 September 2009. Some 143 people died in the tsunami and 4000 were left homeless.
What [Campbell Live] saw shocked and distressed. Aleipata was torn apart, people had been killed, others were swept away by the wave and were never found, stories of survival were sad and heart-rending.However, this was a very different story from Pacific Scoop's Alex Perrottet who recently did a compelling series on aid and development in Samoa. Tuilaepa retaliated by branding the Campbell Live report as "stupid and uninformed" in a Radio Australia Pacific Beat item. He told interviewer Geraldine Coutts the claims were "all ridiculous and based on the report by this amateur reporter, Mr Campbell, who came here and spent all his time talking to the Observer newspaper - and then, in his own words, spent much time on the coast. People have moved inland, and therefore he could not have seen what has taken place." Talamua also carried a story describing the Campbell report as "sensational" based on very few interviews and information.
Back home when they returned, they told their story on the screen across New Zealand and people went silent.
Soon afterwards, New Zealanders started giving. Moved by Campbell Live's story they donated generously towards helping Aleipata's tsunami victims.
However, when John Campbell visited on the tsunami's first anniversary he was disappointed. Aleipata's broken homes along the coastal villages were still there. Some homes had neither running water nor electricity. Village after village, sadness and depression reigned.
And so this time, the images and story Campbell Live put on the screen across New Zealand were hardly flattering. Instead, they might have inspired disappointment and even revulsion.
He even suggested that "up to $US45 million in aid had been misappropriated, while many tsunami victims are left without water or electricity".
For many of the Pacific journalists who watched and discussed the Campbell Live report during an ethics and democracy workshop at the conference, the item was stunning for its crassness, cultural arrogance and ignorance and lack of evidence underpinning the sweeping allegations. No doubt there is a story there, but Campbell Live hasn’t yet exposed it.
A follow-up story inevitably featured the door-stopping incident on Campbell Live last night. And again, the question was posed – “Where has the tsunami relief money gone?” – and yet again failed to offer any real answers. Once again, not much balance and fairness in sight. The story said:
In New Zealand, the government would be compelled to answer it – and would do the same as a matter of course.Nevertheless Café Pacific reckons the “investigation’ will need a lot more hard facts and evidence to get anywhere.
But the Samoan government was outraged by it and embarked on a sustained campaign against Campbell Live’s story – including making a formal Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) complaint.”
Yes, there are new roads and electricity is back in the region. The Samoan government says it has spent 68.74 million tala so far, but many tsunami victims feel deserted by their government and wonder why so little of the money has made its way back to them.
Documents obtained by Campbell Live suggest many millions more dollars have been received than have been spent around the coastline.
Last word - from a blogger who, while acknowledging the money trail is worth following, dismissed the original report as a “shocking abuse of his viewers”.
Describing Campbell’s visit to a typical fale, offered by the journalist as "evidence" of the misuse of aid – including an extraordinary “houses without walls” comment, the blogger, Pervach, wrote the situation was portrayed out of context:
[Campbell] knows that most of his viewers in their cosy western houses in New Zealand will compare this shack to what is normal in New Zealand. Now, I have been to Samoa – I have seen normal Samoan villages, where people live in fales.
There are no toilets, bathrooms, kitchens, windows made of glass [and] water pipes. We are talking about Samoa here – a Third World country. It is normal in Samoa to have none of these things.
In Samoa, if you have these things, you are rich.
- Campbell video link (Nov 1) - Where has the tsunami money gone?
- Campbell video link (Sept 27) - Samoan tsunami: Has aid been used effectively?
- Samoan PM denies misuse of tsunami rebuilding funds
- Wave of controversy over PM tsunami interview