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TONGA’S KELE‘A NEWSPAPER GUILTY OF DEFAMATION Three defendants fined $8,100 for false election story

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Taimi Media Network, May 3, 2011) – In Tonga, Police Magistrate, Salesi Mafi last week sentenced all three accused in the case against the Kele‘a to a fine of 14,275 pa’anga [US$8,100]. But this amount could stretch to 200,000 pa'anga [US$113,000] if 16 other plaintiffs decide to launch similar complaints against the newspaper.

William Clive Edwards as plaintiff brought charges against the publisher of the Kele’a, Laucala Pohiva Tapueluelu, her husband, Mateni Tapueluelu, who is the editor, and also the Kele’a newspaper, in a civil action for defamation.

The Kele’a is alleged to have published an article released on 24 November 2010, the day before the Parliamentary election for people’s representatives for the whole of Tonga. The article was titled, "Whose team is this?"

In the article, the Kele’a published a list of candidates, including the plaintiff, and alleged that the Government put the listed candidates together, and the Government was the chief supporter of those listed. The newspaper also launched a number of other attacks against these candidates.

Mr. Edwards complained that the article was false and defaming, and that his candidacy was seriously affected. He lost the race to a candidate strongly supported by the Kele’a.

All the other 16 candidates named in the Kele’a article were offended and some are preparing civil action against the newspaper.

It was brought up during the hearing that the Kele’a created the story without any base of truth whatsoever.

There were no candidates supported by the Government, and the intent of the article as alleged by the plaintiff was to diminish the chances of any of the listed candidates winning the election.

When the editor was asked how he came up with the list of candidates, he answered that the list came from the Government. Witnesses from the former Government called by the plaintiff, made statements that no such information came from the Government. Cross-examination of the editor, Mateni Tapueluelu, revealed he lied, having created the story himself.

If others who were named in the Kele’a article decide to take legal action against the newspaper, as Mr. Edwards has done, the newspaper could in for a heftier fine.

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