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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Nov. 6) – The Government of Tonga is concerned about the lack of transparency in the preparation of the Worldwide Press Freedom Index for 2007. At the same time it is of the opinion that its 119 ranking out of 169 countries (and a final score of 38.25) is meaningless and an inaccurate reflection of the actual situation in Tonga in relation to press freedom.

The Index is compiled annually by "Reporters Without Borders" organisation, and the Index for 2007 covers the period, 1 September 2006 to 1 September 2007. The Index is supposed to reflect the degree of freedom that journalists and news organizations enjoy in Tonga and the efforts made by the Government to respect and to ensure respect for this freedom.

The Index was first produced in 2002 and Tonga first appeared on it in 2004 with a ranking of 119 (and a score of 38.17) the same as that for 2007. Its ranking for 2005 was 62 (and a score of 14.50) and for 2006, 54 (and a score of 13.00)

In its preparation of the 2007 Index, "Reporters Without Borders" sent out a questionnaire with 50 criteria that assess the state of press freedom in Tonga to an unknown number of, and unidentified correspondents, journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists with some knowledge of the Tongan situation.

The questionnaire included questions about: the well being journalists (e.g. "How many journalists and media assistants were murdered?" "Were murdered with the state involved?"); the well being of media organizations (e.g. "Were there media outlets censored, seized or ransacked?"); the legal framework for the media (e.g. "Were there undue restriction of foreign investment in the media?").

Speaking on behalf of the Government, the Minister for Information, Hon Afu'alo Matoto said, "In the absence of the empirical data that they derived from the responses to their questionnaire and without access to the criteria used to calculate the final score for Tonga, the ranking that "Reporters Without Borders" have given for Tonga is meaningless. And that is a great pity because if their intention in producing the annual Index was to help us improve our respect for press freedom, they have not shown us exactly where the improvements should take place."

The Hon Minister also said, "I also found it rather amusing that whilst in the 2006 Index, Tonga was ranked 54 equal with the United States of America and Croatia, in the 2007 Index, Croatia is ranked 41 and the United States is ranked 48 and Togo is ranked 49 . Maybe they have confused Tonga with Togo?" Released by the Ministry of Public Enterprises & Information, 06/11/07.

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