18 February 2004


CPJ condemns government's use of restrictive media laws to silence independent media

Incident details

(CPJ/IFEX) - In a 17 February 2004 letter to King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, CPJ expressed its grave concern about the government's use of restrictive new media laws to silence several publications in Tonga.

In 2003, the government passed two new regulations governing the media. The Newspaper Act requires all publications in Tonga to be licensed by the government. The Media Operators' Act stipulates that foreigners may not own more than a 20 percent stake in media companies in the country. The deadline for license registration was set for 31 January 2004. Violation of the Newspaper Act is punishable by a 10,000 Tongan Pa'anga (approx. US$5,200) fine or imprisonment of up to a year.

Since 31 January, the government has only granted licenses to a few publications, most of which are owned by the government or the church. All independent publications in Tonga, including "Taimi 'o Tonga" and the quarterly news magazine "Matangi Tonga", have been denied licenses. "Kele'a", a newspaper owned by a pro-democracy member of Parliament, was also banned. Tongan journalists believe that the licenses were denied because of the publications' independent reporting on political affairs in the country.

The Media Operators' Act was largely seen as being a direct attempt to silence "Taimi 'o Tonga", which is published by Kalafi Moala, a U.S. citizen living in New Zealand. In response, "Taimi 'o Tonga" editors applied to launch a new, fully Tongan-owned company, called Lali Media, that would publish and distribute "Taimi 'o Tonga". The company was approved by the Department of Labour and Commerce. However, the application to publish "Taimi 'o Tonga" under Lali Media was denied by the Newspaper Registrar on 4 February. According to sources at "Taimi 'o Tonga", officials notified the paper that the license was rejected "on the grounds that the past performance of the proposed editor has been evaluated and found to be incompetent." "Taimi 'o Tonga" also applied for a license to publish a new newspaper, "Niuvakai". The license was denied for the same reason. "Taimi 'o Tonga" has applied for a judicial review of the ban.

In February 2003, officials banned the importation of "Taimi 'o Tonga" after the paper had reported on corruption allegations within the government and the royal family. After the Supreme Court overturned the ban, declaring it unconstitutional, the government proposed the Media Operators' Act and the Newspaper Act, in an apparent effort to tighten official control over the media.

CPJ condemns the government's efforts to silence publications that report aggressively on political affairs and other issues of public concern. During the last year, the government has taken a series of steps aimed at closing "Taimi 'o Tonga" and consolidating government control over the media, even after the court has declared such actions unconstitutional. Such excessive government interference has effectively silenced any independent voices in Tonga.


Committee to Protect Journalists
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