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HONOLULU (Pacific Islands Report, Feb. 12) – Tonga might have lost another private publication – the long-running and privately owned Matangi Tonga – to the country’s new restrictions on press freedom.

According to an editorial in the monthly magazine’s website, an application for a publishing license has been withheld by the government because the magazine’s parent company, Vavau Press Ltd., is more than 20 percent foreign-owned.

The biweekly Taimi o Tonga and the political newsletter Ko e Kele'a – rare voices of criticism against government policies in the Kingdom of Tonga – have been denied licenses to distribute their publications.

The 23-year-old Vavau Press is 51 percent owned by editor Pesi Fonua, a native Tongan, and 49 percent by his wife, Mary Fonua, a New Zealand citizen.

The Tongan government late last year passed a law, which is says was modeled after U.S. regulations, limiting foreign ownership of media companies to 20 percent.

It was not immediately clear whether the government’s withholding of the license constitutes a full denial.

The New Zealand-based Taimi o Tonga, a biweekly which was banned by the Tongan government last year before wining a reversal in court, recently withdrew from Tongan distribution. Publisher Kalafi Moala has said he believes Tonga’s new media laws were aimed at his newspaper, which reported critically on the Tongan government and the country’s royal family.

Matangi Tonga has been strongly opposed to the new media laws, closely reporting related developments and urging their reversal.

Following the reversal, the Tongan government introduced ammendments to the country’s constitution, forbidding critical reporting and requiring government-issued licenses. The laws were quickly approved and recently went into effect.

According to the Matangi Tonga editorial, the two bookstores in the Tongan capitol of Nukualofa currently carry no foreign newspapers, magazines or books because they also must pass government scrutiny to obtain a license to distribute in the kingdom.

The editorial said that last week, Registrar of Newspapers 'Eseta Fusitu'a announced the names of applicants that had been granted publishing licences and those who were denied.

Approved were the government newspaper Kalonikali Tonga; the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga's Tohi Fanongonongo; the Catholic Church's Taumu'a Lelei; the Tokaikolo Christian Fellowship's 'Ofa Ki Tonga; the Tonga Chamber of Commerce newsletter, Lali Buzz; and the Tonga Star, a privately owned newspaper.

The applicants that were denied licences were the long-standing Ko e Kele'a, and new companies Lali Media Ltd, Vula News Co. Ltd.

February 12, 2004


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