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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Maganti Tonga, Dec. 30) - There was no Christmas cheer for the Tongan media from the Tonga Government this year. In the Christmas Eve mail postmarked "Nuku'alofa December 24, 2003" were the gazetted copies of the government's new Media Legislation, which had been with held from the eyes of the local press after being signed by the King in November this year.

The new acts include an Amendment to Clause 7 of the Constitution restricting Freedom of Speech, the Newspaper Act 2003, and an Act requiring the Licensing of Media Operators.

For weeks, copies of the legislation were made available only to a select few people, including foreign diplomats and the upper echelon of the public service. While the foreign media ran stories about Tonga's new oppressive media laws, the local Tongan media were left in the dark for a month about whether the King had actually given his consent to the bills or not.

The Government Printing Office, which prints and distributes the legislation, finally released two Gazette Supplement Extraordinary last week, following persistent queries about the Media legislation. The Government Printer said that the only media-related Gazette that he could release were the Newspaper Regulations 2003, dated December 16, and the Appointment of Registrar of Newspapers, dated December 18. Both were issued under the authority of the Acting Deputy Prime Minister and the Acting Minister responsible for Communications, Clive Edwards.

Finally, the three Acts making up the main body of the new media legislation were released on Christmas Eve. Matangi Tonga received its copy on 29 December 2003.

The timing of the release of these media Acts was important to the people responsible, considering that the King actually gave his consent way back on November 18, 21, and 24.

Many people had copies, but the people who will be disadvantaged the most, the local media and the Tongan public, received it as a Christmas present from government.

The deadline for Newspaper Licence applications to the Department of Communications is 30 January 2004.

January 1, 2004

Matangi Tonga:





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