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Tonga attacks democracy again

31 July 2003

Tonga attacks democracy again

The Media Operators law, just passed by Tonga's undemocratic legislative assembly, indicates that Tonga is slipping back into attacking democracy which threatens not only free speech and good governance in that nation but also New Zealand's national interests, says Progressive MP, Matt Robson.

"It is in everyone's interests to promote democracy and good governance in our region because without good governance you can't promote economic development and jobs and without good governance you also can't develop the foundations necessary for safe communities," Matt Robson said.

The new law provides that only newspapers with 80 percent of shareholders living in Tonga and who are Tongan citizens may be published in Tonga. If the King of Tonga tried to impose that on the New Zealand media, he would close most of the media, creating massive unemployment in the industry while severely curtailing avenues for the free expression of ideas.

The Media Operators law is aimed at shutting down the only free publication in Tonga – the Taimi o Tonga (Times of Tonga). Its publisher, Kalafi Moala, lives in Auckland and he also has United States citizenship.

"What is happening in our near-neighbour Tonga is of course a tragedy for that society and in breach of Tonga's own commitments to the international community via its membership of the United Nations and U.N. conventions," Matt Robson said.

"These developments are also against New Zealand's national interests because the slide into dictatorship in Tonga spells political strife in that society.

"It is against New Zealand's interests to have a neighbour in political turmoil because political strife can be exploited by other nations wanting to make mischief in this part of the world. It also means more and more Tongans will join the queue of those wanting to leave the country as refugees from repression. Their first port of call will be New Zealand and other neighbouring states," Matt Robson said.

The continued repression of free speech in Tonga will be an issue at the 34th Pacific Islands Forum to be held in Auckland in mid-August. "One of the aims of the Forum is to promote democracy and good governance in our region because without good governance you can't promote economic development and jobs and you can't develop the foundations necessary for safe communities," Matt Robson said.

ENDS

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