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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, May 12) – Tonga Minister of Justice Aisea Taumoepeau on Monday tried to reassure Tongan journalists that they should not feel threatened or be afraid of the government following the amendment last year to Clause 7 of the Tongan Constitution relating to freedom of speech.The changes to the constitution neutralized free speech so that government could pass suppressive media legislation that was illegal when free speech was guaranteed by the constitution.

The minister said the constitutional change gave government the right to make laws to regulate the operation of any media in Tonga and to enact laws which are considered necessary to safeguard public interest, national security, public order, morality, cultural traditions, and privileges of the Legislative Assembly and to provide for contempt of court and the commission of any offence.

When the Chairman of the Media Council, Pesi Fonua [publisher of Matangi Tonga] pointed out that media freedom has been gagged under such a threatening environment without clearly defined boundaries, the minister insisted that responsible journalists should know that themselves, and that words such "culture" and "morality" and "privileges" in the new law did not need any interpretation to show where the boundaries were.

He said that Tongan journalists should not have fear and that government will only enact more restrictive laws when it sees fit.

The minister ignored the fact that the freedom of the press in Tonga has been erased by the latest amendment to the constitution.

He said he considers it the right of government to make laws to control the media.

The second "Talking Law With The Media" program is scheduled to take place in two weeks time.

May 13, 2004

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