TONGAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES MEDIA CONTROL

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (RNZI, July 28) - There are fears in Tonga that the Media Operator’s Bill, which would ban foreigners from owning media in Tonga, could pass this week.

It comes as Parliament also resumes debate on controversial changes to the constitution, which many commentators say will dramatically limit media freedom.

The publisher of the "Taimi O Tonga" newspaper, Kalafi Moala, said the proposed constitutional changes would result in a curbing of media freedom but also said he’d be surprised if it passes:

"not only the people's representatives but also the members of the nobility in parliament have also been meeting together and everything that we have received so far has been that the nobles are going to side with the peoples representatives to reject it."

Moala, who has just won a court case against the government over the bans imposed on his newspaper, says the legislation will be hotly debated.

Both measures were prompted by the government’s failure to ban the "Taimi O Tonga."

The Media Operator’s Bill was initially directed at Moala, who holds American citizenship.

Lopeti Senituli of the Human Rights and Democracy Movement says the Bill, in its new draft, purports to ban all foreigners from running media in Tonga.

He says the measure reeks of malice.

The measure was deferred last month after its opponents won a ballot by 12 votes to 11, with the seven pro-democracy MPs and a number of the nobles voting against it.

Senituli says they fear the Government could succeed if a vote is held this week, because two of the pro-democracy MPs are out of the country:

"if the configuration stays the same then the bill could very well pass by eleven ballots to ten because two of the peoples representatives are overseas."Nine hereditary nobles, nine elected MPs and twelve ministers appointed by the King makeup the 30 members of Tonga’s parliament."

July 29, 2003

Radio New Zealand International: http://www.rnzi.com/

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