Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Samoan PM blasts newspaper over dead trans woman on front page

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, pictured during a church service, is appalled by the local newspaper's recent front page. Photo / File
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, pictured during a church service, is appalled by the local newspaper's recent front page. Photo / File

The Samoan Prime Minister says he is "appalled" over the decision of a local newspaper to publish a photograph of a suspected suicide victim in her final moments.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi criticised the Samoa Observer for its front page yesterday, which showed a full-length photo of a local fa'afafine, or transgender woman, after being found dead in a church hall.

The body of Jeanine Tuivaiki, 20, was discovered in a church hall near Apia in the early hours of Friday morning.

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

"As a parent, it was devastating to see someone's child portrayed in such a heartless manner," Mr Malielegaoi said.

"The decision by the newspaper's editor to share this image is one that raises many red flags and questions about the ethics and responsibility of the press."

Mr Malielegaoi also acknowledged that the publication of the photo also went against cultural and religious beliefs - things that were held in high regard in Samoa.

The Government had encouraged local media's right to freedom of speech and last year passed the Media Council Act, he said.

That would see a newly-established media council which would rely heavily on those already involved in the Journalists Association of (Western) Samoa, known as JAWS.

"Government has provided a clear, legislated pathway for media self-regulation, and as such it is the core responsibility of empowered media practitioners such as JAWS to ensure journalistic standards are held high and reporters and editors operate ethically and within moral and ethical boundaries."

Members of the Samoan community - both at home and overseas - have begun various campaigns, including boycotting the paper, in response to the article.

The Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) has started a petition against the publication via the website.

On Facebook and Twitter, people called on the public not to buy today's newspaper, despite the editor in chief issuing an apology on today's front page.

Many said they would be writing complaints to the Ombudsman, while others called for those involved in the publication process to be sacked.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community also blasted the article for referring to Ms Tuivaiki as a man.

A spokeswoman for the Samoa Fa'afafine Association said: "They wrote an article and misgendered Jeanine and ripped any remnants of humanity from her corpse...they dehumanised her."

A police spokesman, Maotaoali'i Kaioneta Kitiona, told the Herald today they were still investigating the circumstances of Ms Tuivaiki's death. Authorities had not officially confirmed her death was by suicide.

"We've got an investigation now. We're now going to wait for the Coroner and request for the post mortem [report].

"We're going to rely on our investigations to...[find out] what happened."

Mr Kitiona said they did not have anyone in custody in relation to the death and were currently not looking at anyone else's involvement.

However, he said: "It depends on our investigation and the result for that."

Asked if the photo of Ms Tuivaiki published yesterday was taken by a member of police staff, he declined to comment, only to say that all photographs taken by police were not to be published without authority by the Police Commissioner.

He said police would be issuing more information at a media conference on Thursday.

- NZ Herald

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