Tonga Celebrates Press Freedom Day In Shadow Of Suspension

admin's picture

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

PM demands government-owned broadcaster investigate Ulakai

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, May 3, 2016) – Tonga’s Press Freedom Day celebration, today 3 May, is impeded by a demand by the Prime Minister, Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva, for a broadcast journalist in the Tonga government owned media, Tonga Broadcasting Commission, to be suspended.

Tonga, only last month was rated at No. 37 in the world-recognized 2015 Media Freedom Index, the highest that we have ever been, higher than Fiji at 80 and surpassing the United Kingdom at 38. Samoa has even better media freedom at 29.

The recent call by the Prime Minister is damaging Tonga’s media freedom rating as we are celebrating Press Freedom Day today, 3 May 2016.

The clash between the Prime Minister and the Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC), dubbed as a "Public Broadcaster" is hindering a struggle by the Tongan media in general to firmly establish media freedom in Tonga.

Early last year government made a move to reduce the number of Boards, which oversee the operation of its 15 Public Enterprises, including the TBC. The decision meant that board members had to resign, but the Chair woman and one of the directors of the TBC challenged the decision. Then a Supreme Court decision in April declared that the two, Lady Fusitu'a and Lady Fielakepa are still members of the Board. The public is left with a perception that the TBC remains in a confused situation.

Early last month the Prime Minister wrote a letter to the Minister of Public Enterprises, calling for the suspension with pay of Viola Ulakai, News Head of TBC, while an investigation was carried out on her actions. According to the PM, Viola’s letters of inquiry to him were also copied to various people overseas and he did not like that.

The journalist's inquiry was a desperate attempt to get information on a controversial move by the Minister of Education, a portfolio also held by the Prime Minister, Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva, to introduce a new examination marking system. The move to replace Standardized Marks with Raw Marks has caused a lot of hick-ups within the education system, and many Form 7 students could not enter higher education institutions, and universities which do not recognise Tonga's Raw Marks.

Access to information

For Tonga it is 141 years since the introduction of our Constitution in 1875, and the declaration under Clause 7 – that there "shall be freedom of Speech and the Press for ever…"

There is a mixed feeling as we are celebrating Press Freedom Day today 3 May, under the UNESCO theme 'Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms – This is your Right!'

It is also an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of Press Freedom, assess the state of Press Freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on the independence, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty. In 2015 some 72 journalists were killed while in the line of duty, and 199 were imprisoned.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova says this year’s celebration is historically significant.

The 250th anniversary of the world’s first freedom of information law, covering both modern-day Sweden and Finland.

The 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Windhock Declaration of Press Freedom Principles. The first Press Freedom Day celebration in Namibia, Africa.

This year 2016 is also the first year of the 15 year plans for the new Sustainable Development Goals SDGs.

"I call on everyone to stand united in defending and encouraging press freedom and the right to access to information. This is essential for human rights and dignity, for our aspirations for sustainable development, for common determination to build lasting peace," she said.

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Add new comment