TONGAN GOVERNMENT HANGS ON TO TROUBLED PAPER

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Tonga Chronicle will seek new management

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Dec. 11, 2008) – Although the Government owned and operated Tonga Chronicle is being outsourced for a new management, expected to take over in January 2009, the Government will retain ownership and editorial control of the loss-making weekly newspaper that it is currently heavily subsidising.

It is hoped that private management might be able to fund the operation.

But the Prime Minister Hon Dr Feleti Sevele today confirmed that Government would continue to hold ownership of the 44-year-old newspaper.

The Prime Minister said Government still wants to have an input in the operation of the newspaper, which they view as a vital source of information for people. "We do not want to see any reporting that would cause slander cases like it has with the Tonga Broadcasting Commission, take place.

"But if they operate well and we believe they are managing it well, then, why not, we will eventually leave them to operate within their own," mused the Prime Minister.

He also said another example of putting out Government entities to the private sector was Television Tonga 2 and how it had leased out its six hours to the Taimi Production Network, saying, "I think competition is good."

He added the outsourcing of the Chronicle was also a part of Government's program of privatising and letting go of its commercial activities for private entities to operate.

Not for sale

The Deputy of the Prime Minister's Office Paula Ma'u said today, that the successful private entity selected for the job was expected to start in January 2009 and the Expressions of Interest would close on December 19.

He clarified that the Chronicle was not being tendered out for sale, but they were looking for management.

"It simply means a transfer of the management or day-to-day execution of the entire business function to the successful bidder that will include their use of the Government owned equipment, staff and building."

Step to Privatisation

Paula said this was the first step towards corporatisation and eventually the privatisation of the newspaper just as Government had done in other commercial activities such as the Tonga Print, which was now privatised.

"This decision in regards to the Chronicle is made from inside Government because the newspaper has been identified as a commercial activity of Government ready to be corporatised and privatized, and this is an opportunity for it."

Paula said that once the successful bidder was selected, together with Government they would decide how they would fund the newspaper and whether government would still be needed to chip in. But at the same time the Expression of Interest was seeking suitable, reputable organisations which can "manage, fund and operate the production and sales of the Tonga Chronicle."

"But if there are no successful applicants government will continue to operate the newspaper because it was established in July 1964 by His Late Majesty with the objective, 'to disseminate responsibly-gathered and written information,' and the first duty of a newspaper is public information, and its direction should be governed first and foremost by this objective," said Paula

Decline in Sales

He also noted that one important aspect of the Chronicle was that it was never meant to be operated on a business plan to make profit, rather it was just one of services provided by Government. Proceeds from sales may meet the production costs but he said that Government met other expenses, like salaries.

"But to date the paper did not make a profit as such, and with competition in the sector, sales declined as well as the production of the Tonga Chronicle."

He also said that the Expression of Interest also stated that the Editorial Policy must comply with the law and a high standard of responsible media ethics that shall be overseen by Government and the successful applicant.

Paula noted that a company bidding for the management needed to have experience in management of media related activities.

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