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.


  1. Amen to that!
    John Campbell sensationalised the news item to the day! what he also fails to realise is that most families before the tsunami lived under 1 roof (grandparents, their kids and spouses, grandchildren and so on) then when they were hit and grants were announced by Govt, EACH of these couples (who once lived under one roof) were demanding a House each, now multiply that by a thousand households and you have a dilemna.
    JC was rude and cocky, he should have stayed for the interview arranged for the 2nd nov instead of whining about the miscommunication.
    But it still leaves us with "Where's the rest of the money?"

  2. Anonymous4/11/10 18:10


  3. Yes, exactly. All this fuss, and John Campbell still can't give us an answer to that question. *sigh*

  4. inkybutton14/11/10 06:00

    Hi Pervach, saw a link to your blog on master5o1's site, and decided to check it out. :)
    I first learnt of this from Mediawatch, which made similar points to your post, along with a few others:
    I thought that it wasn't a complete fluff of a news item. Sure, the fact that he didn't inform viewers the standard of living before the tsunami is a no-no, but the fact that there are people who were not allocated any funds and that many are in the dark about how the government's spending were newsworthy. Unfortunately, he seemed to have decided to take the human interest story route, interviewing individuals and their stories, which can be (and the Samoan government is arguing to be) unrepresentative; it would have been more interesting and informative to have an overview of the amount of people who received help and how much, and the amount that didn't.
    In the end, I don't think John Campbell would have gotten very far anyway. The Samoan government refused to give a date as to when they will release an aduited report on foreign aid, and the existing, unaudited report did not specify how much foreign aid was spent in the rebuilding efforts. Also, even if John Campbell stayed and took up the interview, ten minute with the PM is hardly enough for such a meaty issue. But at the very least, the exposure caused by the story will probably put pressure on the government, pushing them to publish evidence to the contrary of the accusations - something good that comes out of the mess.