I’m intrigued by the current spat between John Campbell and Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuila’epa. From what I’ve seen so far, my money’s firmly on the PM. I’ll eat humble pie and apologise to JC if I’m wrong!
I‘ve found Tuila’epa to be a man of extraordinary leadership and political acumen well beyond all others, certainly in Samoa. I have heard of others discussing his aptitude with the words “genius”. Perhaps so, but I would classify them as outstanding rather than genius. Supremely confident, he is a man who has run the country as any Samoan High Chief of stature would, with effectively total power.
I’ve also watched John Campbell develop his broadcasting career moving from the political scene into TV and developing a name for himself with a few scoops, and a unique style of operation. I don’t like John on the screen but respect him for his achievements. Sticking to it as long as he has is no mean achievement. The guy must live on “V”! I have in the past found some of his takes on people and situations offensive and quite one-eyed, but I’ll hand it to him – he too is a confident and passionate reporter.
The current ding-dong relates to a question John has asked, and that is “Where has all the money gone?” in regards to Tsunami relief. It’s a good question and John has been stonewalled somewhat in getting the answer from a government and an administration that has made a reputation for itself. Some would say that they have made retention of meaningful information an art-form.
In making his case in his first TV story, John has leaned on the testimony of NZ based Samoans, and people from affected villages who from what I see tend to be opportunist with the arrival of a reporter and a camera. Supporting comments from the public on the TV3 website are overwhelingly positive towards John’s “investigation”. Even though I understand the Samoan environment that to put it politely, leans towards nepotism and other related sins, my take on the story at the time was “that’s a pretty wild accusation, backed up with some pretty dodgy examples.”
A few days after the story ran, the PM said to me in passing that he “had a little problem with that reporter Campbell” at the moment. I chuckled that the PM didn’t seem at all phased by John’s report and had a fair amount of disdain for John’s work. I concluded that either the PM was a very cool cucumber or that he genuinely didn’t have anything to worry about with John’s accusations.
I detailed more of my assessment of John’s first story in a recent post Persona Non Grata. I may be proved wrong but it certainly didn’t stack up to high journalism standards from where I was sitting.
In an extraordinary display of statesmanship the PM personally conducted a Samoan-style dispute resolution between our landlord (who was attempting to unilaterally double our rent) and ourselves as we insisted upon honouring our agreement. I have nothing but respect for the PM of a country recovering from a Tsunami, spending considerable time to resolve matters for one Palagi who had arrived on his shores and sought help. It was extraordinary, even more so when the PM invited both parties to a celebratory dinner to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation.
I missed the evening meal as I was flying out to New Zealand but my team were astounded at the interaction between John Campbell and the PM at the end of the evening when John sprung the PM as he was getting into his car. My word has it that it is lucky for John that he is out of Samoa after his performance. I believe from people in Samoa that at the moment he too may be a persona non grata too if he continues along these lines.
John’s follow-up story continues the same theme – claiming or at least implying that there is missing money and the PM knows where it went to and John Campbell is not going to give up, and JC will get to the bottom of it. A large proportion of comments following the article support John’s campaign to ferret out the truth and get the evil PM and his corrupt cronies in Government.
My take is that John has failed to grasp the cultural intricacies of Samoa; that he has a good subject addressed in a bad way; and that at the end of the day, nothing much will be “found” and nothing much will “happen” as a result.
John refers to the official government report on the Tsunami as the primary source of information and scoffs at the PM’s claims on radio that “All money received has been paid but not all pledged money has been received”. The report appears to me to be a very loose summary document that commences with the words:
This is not intended to be a comprehensive account of the tsunami disaster.
Tuila’epa’s own words of introduction contain:
. . . It is not uncommon to face questions on the final destiny of the assistance and on the effectiveness of supply systems to the communities as well as the overall coverage of the assistance during emergency situations.
The report aims to put such concerns to rest by presenting to the public what was received, and administered by the government, as well as the utilization of such assistance for the affected communities. All contributions received by or made known to Government, regardless of scope, size, volume or dimension, are hereby acknowledged with the heartfelt thanks of the government. The generosity demonstrated in so many ways and so long after the disaster has helped the Government lessen the burden of returning the affected communities to some degree of normalcy as effectively and efficiently as possible.
As much as the government has tried to capture all the assistance particularly those extended to communities outside the government systems and procedures mainly for accountability purposes, it has not been possible to obtain the information from some of the organizations and individuals concerned. Nevertheless, government includes all such assistance in this acknowledgement with sincere gratitude.
In some places donations are documented down to cardboard boxes and containers, yet in others there is opportunities for misunderstanding over large amounts such as the phrases “Pledged – to be received”, “Lightly tagged to [subject]” or “To be received”.
I wonder why John cannot or won’t supply the PM with written questions. I don’t think Tuila’epa is a man that can be pushed around quite like some of John’s other “victims”. I’d’ just supply him with the questions and get on with it. Suggesting that the TV3 studios are open for him to visit is of no interest to the leader of a sovereign state. Who is John Campbell to the man who has run his country longer than . . . well, I’ll stop there before I too cause offence!
I question the effectiveness of the confrontational style of investigative journalism that John is employing in Samoa. I have learned that causing offence achieves little in a land where saving face reigns supreme.
While I’ve several times seen Tuila’epa “play games” with people when he is not accorded proper respect, I have also seen him open up and be quite obliging and helpful when it has suited him. As the consumate politician, I would imagine that Tuila’epa will be strategising how to play John for his own best benefit. If the people who are eligible to vote (effectively only those in Samoa, and not those who have settled offshore) can see one of their own stand up to a “stupid, upstart reporter” then his own re-election chances are increased.
Understand also that while the Samoan people seem to constantly fight and bicker amongst themselves and pull their own down, when confronted by an outside threat, they band together very effectively to repel.
In regards to the issue of misappropriation I think it far more likely that funds have been moved around rather than having been actually “stolen”. Yes I know that politicians look after themselves, and their families and friends. This is common practice the world over, and yes, I know that the Samoan way is to do this a little more blatantly than in the Western World, but I really can’t see corruption to the extent that John is claiming or implying. I would suggest looking sideways rather than backwards for anything not quite right.
For the record, I have spoken to John directly and his Executive Producer offering the services of the same cultural advisor that we use in Samoa. I help all people wanting to do business in Samoa – with introductions and guidance – but for the above reasons, I think that John is “up against it” with this one.
As I said at the start, “My money’s on the PM” this time!
In a communication to John Campbell the Prime Minister of Samoa has offered him another chance to be interviewed. The direct speaking PM has effectively advised John Campbell that he has shown disrespect to the leader of the Samoan people and that he will not stoop to the level of gutter journalism.
Speaking about doing in Rome what the Romans do, it is clear that Tuila’epa will not be pushed around by anybody in the way that John Campbell is trying to do. Samoans win in Samoa, every time. John needs urgent and high level guidance in Fa’a Samoa to resolve his problem with Tuila’epa.
I am a Palagi businessman who currently has more open and frequent communications with the PM than one of New Zealand’s top journalists, simply because I show respect. In a nutshell Tui is just teaching John a lesson in manners – Samoan style. The good thing is that when John does the right thing the right way, I am certain that the PM will be very forthcoming.
For the record, my take on the “missing” Tsunami money is that the PM appears to be on very firm ground and has also informed me of four material errors that John has made – and this aside from the matters of demonstrating respect to a foreign Prime Minister.
Those also accusing the PM of malpractice have failed to produce serious compelling evidence of fraud or corruption. Even the Samoan opposition’s complaints are quite anaemic.
In a recent news story run by the Samoa Observer John Campbell is quoted as saying that he doesn’t understand the Prime Minister of Samoa:
I donâ€™t even understand the Prime Ministerâ€™s letters now
For those with even an inkling of an understanding of cross cultural issues, nobody need say any more about this subject . . .
Dear John, you just said it! It’s what I said to you on the phone – you do not understand. You have a fully Western world cultural approach and bias that you cannot see because you are too proud. Huimble yourself my friend and you will start to understand.
Dear John, I’ll give you a clue; the PM is playing you like a fish caught on a line. You’ve taken the bait ‘hook, line and sinker’. Samoans will never again be ruled by foreigners and certainly not foreign journalists. The current PM has been in power for 12 years and to say that he is no fool is an understatement. Like I have had to do over the last year, I encourage you to wisen up in your understanding of Fa’a Samoa if you want to do business in Samoa. Samoa has a fiercely independent spirit but it is a rich culture that runs VERY deep. You are currently being fooled by things on the surface. They have a saying here that the higher the coconut crab climbs the coconut tree the more he can see. My friend I suggest that you start climbing the coconut tree.
Dear John, as an aside I find the events surrounding your spat with Tuila’epa highly entertaining in that while you struggle to gain 10 minutes with him, last week I spent 8 hours talking face-to-face with the PM on a whole bunch of subjects, including you, and it came very naturally. Yet I tried probably twenty times to contact you and Pip while I was in New Zealand leaving messages with MediaWorks reception and on Pip’s answerphone AND cellphone! You said you wanted to talk to me and I want to help you. I tried but your team has ignored me, or couldn’t be bothered to return a call. In my mind this is even worse than what you claim the PM is doing to you, which is essentially just dictating when and where and what will be discussed on your programme!
Dear John, my cultural advisors have been awaiting your call for weeks so that we can help you understand the other side of the story. When you DO want to genuinely understand the PM and Fa’a Samoa, you will find everyone in Samoa very willing to help you. Until then one can only assume that you are more interested in your own agenda than establishing truth and understanding.
Aussie politician gets pretty direct:
…we think that those particular reports from that NZ journalist are frankly rubbish…
Might pay to get on the phone to me and our cultural advisors, John?
Rarely will you see such a public thrashing of a major journalist as this: http://bit.ly/ejrnUz.
THE SCORE: Tuila’epa:3 John Campbell:0 Game, set and match.
Hillarious how a politician can have such a sense of humour, mischieviousness and dignity at the same time! You’ve really got to hand it to Tui on this one!
While only posted in February 2011, these articles were undoubtedly written previously:
Pursuing the news is not always truth-seeking (which while she is a little repetitive does spell things out well) and Campbell Liveâ€™s hidden agenda. This latter article focuses on one aspect only of the whole saga – TV3’s unbridled quest for ratings. I think the author is disingenuous to John and has not practised what he preaches about good journalism. I know for a fact that John truly believed in his story, certainly to begin with. I know for a fact that he genuinely did not understand Tuila’epa, and he clearly doesn’t understand the finer details of Fa’a Samoa. It is also clear to me that he was set up by a rival news organisation to Savali News. Tui himself aludes to this and the other newspaper seemed to take pride in their “assistance” to John when he was here. I wouldn’t say that John was deliberately set up, but I would say that he fell foul of cultural misunderstandings, and got used by people who had an agenda. I also think that he and his team struggle to comprehend what the h*ll went wrong!