TONGA RADIO NEWS ‘BLACKOUT’ STILL IN EFFECT

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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, June 27) – The reporting of political news and parliamentary proceedings by the news staff of the government-controlled Radio Tonga and Television Tonga has been on hold since Friday June 15.

According to news staff today, Radio Tonga's parliamentary report "From the House" that is normally broadcast three days a week, during the session has not been broadcast, and "The Editors," a weekly television commentary, has not been aired, while other political news is on hold.

The General Manager of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission 'Elenoa Amanaki said today that they could have been broadcasting political news normally on Monday, but she was still waiting for her department managers to have a meeting.

Since the announcement by the Radio Tonga News Editor, Siaosi Lavaka on the evening of June 15 that Television Tonga and Radio Tonga had been told to stop broadcasting political news, there have been claims and counter-claims by news staff, the manager and the Prime Minister on who actually stopped the broadcasting of political news by the TBC newsroom.

Initially, it was claimed that the Prime Minister, as chairman of the TBC Board had ordered the stoppage of the broadcasting of political news. However, in parliament on June 18 the Prime Minister Dr Fred Sevele said that it was an in-house affair within the TBC.

The Prime Minister told the House that the General Manager of TBC, was called to a meeting with him, the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Viliami Tangi, and the Minister of Public Enterprises Afu 'Alo Matoto, on Friday June 15. They informed her of a number of complaints by Cabinet Ministers and members of the public over what they thought were unbalanced reporting of political stories by Television Tonga and Radio Tonga. "The General Manager apologized for the shortfalls in the service, and [said] unfortunately some of the staff had their own political agendas, but she would put an end to it."

Following this meeting 'Elenoa told her senior staff, including Siaosi Lavaka, that she met the Prime Minister, and she told them to withhold all parliamentary reporting until further notice.

Siaosi Lavaka said he interpreted this to mean a political news "blackout" and he reported it as such.

[PIR editor’s note: According to PIR archives, Mr. Lavaka reportedly "created an inaccurate and unbalanced news item with the unfounded allegation that Government had ordered a blackout on all political reporting…" An executive of ]

'Elenoa said today she was still waiting for her department managers, "to submit their interpretations of what took place last Friday (June 15) ... because it has been a miscommunication within the organization."

Siaosi Lavaka said that the newsroom was currently holding the reporting of political news "until a decision is made to resume." He did not want to comment on when they were going to meet 'Elenoa to discuss the 'miscommunication' issue.

Katalina Tohi, one of the department managers at TBC did not want any comment on the issue this afternoon.

Meanwhile, a statement last week from the Prime Minister's Office said that, "the Government did not bar the Tonga Broadcasting Commission from broadcasting Parliament proceedings.

"TBC management put a temporary halt to its broadcasts of House proceedings, whilst it reviewed the quality and the financial viability of the programs."

The PMO's statement said that from June 22 "broadcasting had resumed" but it was apparently referring to the House's own weekend programme, and not to the independently produced news and parliamentary coverage by the TBC news staff, which has yet to resume.

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