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Tongan Government Condemns Report On Royal Family

Tongan Government Condemns Report On Royal Family

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NUKU'ALOFA (Pacific Media Watch) - The Tongan Government has criticised a report last month by the Agence France-Presse news agency alleging that senior Tongan Government officials and members of the royal family are involved in corruption and drug smuggling, Pacnews reports.

Citing a Radio Australia report, Pacnews reported on 15 February 2001 that Government spokesperson Eseta Fusitua had claimed the report by Pacific Affairs journalist Michael Field was "unethical".

The AFP report on January 24 was published by Pacific Islands Report website under the headline "Tonga awash in charges of drug running and corruption".

The article reported how a former policeman and now a Sydney nightclub owner with "unique romantic access to Tonga's royal family is causing an uproar in the Pacific kingdom with allegations of high-level involvement in international drug running and corruption".

AFP reported that the kingdom's only independent weekly, the Auckland-based Times of Tonga, had run the revelations from former New Zealand detective sergeant Josh Liava‘a, a Tongan, "who is famed for his affairs with leading women of the royal family", over the previous three weeks.

"I am not scared of them. I can destroy the Tongan government by myself now," Liava‘a, once married into the royal family, told AFP.

Fusitua attacked the report in an interview on Radio Australia's Pacific Beat, saying: "It's such low level journalism. It's such trash. The media treats Tonga with such disregard. Where are their ethics?

"As an ordinary Tongan, I'd like to see journalists' private lives exposed to the same level of scrutiny," she said.

"Why do we not hear about the private lives of the big media moguls or ordinary journalists? I would like to know the private life of Mike Field.

"I am very disappointed with certain members of the media because to me one of the professions that needs to be continually ethical is the media. There are no ethics in the media reporting of Tonga."

Fusitua said Tonga had historically received a bad reputation in the media.

"It's not new to Tonga. We were the only country back in the last century who stood up to the big powers of the world and said, 'We're small, but we own ourselves. We don't want to be annexed by New Zealand or Australia, so that the outside world would then think favorably of us'," Fusitua said.

Pacific Media Watch understands that AFP made many attempts to get Tongan Government reaction and all requests were ignored.

Times of Tonga publisher Kalifi Moala - who in September 1996 was jailed for a month for contempt of Parliament - was quoted in Field's original report as saying his newspaper had published Liava'a's allegations after verifying what it could.

* Field has been banned from Tonga for five years due to his coverage of the scandal associated with the sale of Tongan passports and citizenships (later ruled by the High Court of Tonga as illegal) and his reporting of the pro-democracy movement in Tonga.



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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