3 March 2004


The Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), has joined three other IFEX members in protesting significant new restrictions on press freedom in the Kingdom of Tonga. Also questioning the new laws is a member of the Tongan royal family.

PINA reports that since December 2003, all publications in Tonga must be licensed by the government, and foreigners may not own more than a 20 per cent stake in media companies in the country. Violations are punishable by either a fine of approximately US$5200, imprisonment of up to a year, or both.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports further that since 31 January 2004, the government has approved only a few government or church-owned publications. All independent publications in Tonga have been denied licenses. According to sources at the "Taimi 'o Tonga" (Times of Tonga) newspaper, officials rejected its application because "the past performance of the proposed editor has been evaluated and found to be incompetent." A judicial review of the ban is pending.

CPJ says that in February 2003, Tongan officials banned the paper after it had reported on allegations of corruption within the government and the royal family. After the Supreme Court overturned the ban, calling it unconstitutional, the government passed new laws tightening official control over the media.

Meanwhile, Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders, RSF) condemned the 18 February 2004 arrest of Alani Taione, who handed out copies of the banned "Taimi 'o Tonga" at Tongatapu airport earlier that day. RSF called on Prime Minister Prince 'Ulukalala Lavaka Ata to release Taione and drop the charges.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has also protested delays over the distribution of newspapers in Tonga. Meanwhile, PINA notes that Prince Tuipelehake, a senior parliamentarian and the King of Tonga's nephew, has urged his uncle to overturn the laws and restore freedom of speech.

For more information, contact PINA at pina@connect.com.fj

Visit these links:

-CPJ: www.cpj.org
-IFJ: www.ifj.org
-RSF: www.rsf.org

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