Monday, November 1, 2010

John Campbell and Samoa

I was watching TV3 this arvo, Campbell Live (video here) was pretending to investigate what happened to $152 Mill of money donated to the Samoan government by the likes of the IMF after the tsunami. Now i DO believe that this money trail is an issue worth investigating, but what John Campbell did is a shocking abuse of his viewers.

About 7.35 minutes in, he visits a new house (shack really) built from government money, in a small village in rural Upolu. He makes a big point of there being "no toilet, no bathroom, no kitchen, no running water, no glass in the windows" - the point being that the government should have given them all these things as part of the tsunami response.

My problem with this piece, is that he makes this point by taking the situation completely out of perspective. He knows that most of his viewers in their cozy 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, 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. Here is a building somewhat similar to where a lot of samoans outside the capital live. Note the polas mats which are used basically as window shutters. In actual fact, the shack built by government money looks roughly similar to the normal standard of living in Samoa.
Contrary to my initial thoughts, the people here did have these things before the tsunami - they had western style houses financed by overseas relatives - they were rich samoans. Nevertheless, once put into perspective, the question is "When a rich person get's their uninsured property destroyed, should the government provide them with everything they had before?" In a New Zealand setting, imagine there's a tsunami on the former North Shore, and a row of $10 million cliff-top mansions fall into the sea. A few in particular did not have any insurance. What would you expect the government to build for these people? a normal house, or a brand new $10 million mansion?

I am not trying to provide an answer one way or the other on that question, and yes there are questions to answer about the Samoan governments bookkeeping, but John Campbell's angle on this - that these are appalling conditions for anyone in Samoa to be living in - is completely illegitimate and he has done a disservice to his viewers by intentionally misleading them in this way.

He also comes off as extremely arrogant at about 12.15 minutes in when he approaches and harasses the samoan prime minister - in english - when he had said the previous day that something more important had come up than talking to John Campbell. I just have to imagine what we would think of some foreign journalist accosting John Key while he was carrying out his duties and harassing him in french.

This piece was worse than fluff news - it was a "story" created out of thin air by intentionally misleading their viewers, with a meek attempt to attach legitimacy to it by association with the question about missing donation money (which he never answered). The real shame is that there was a good topic right there which he could have spent his time investigating. I consider what he did do to be an abuse of Campbell Live viewers.

UPDATE: Here is a perspective from someone with much closer ties to Samoa than me. Like he says, John Campbell's story did do some good by shining a light on the missing money, given the legal limitations of homegrown Samoan media. I just wish he had done more of that and less of the off-topic misleading sensationalism about the houses.

Cheers also to Samoa News and Cafe Pacific for mentioning NWBW.