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PIMA Supports Publisher Against Newspaper Ban

PIMA Stands Beside Tongan Publisher Against Newspaper Ban.

The New Zealand based Pacific Island Media Association 'PIMA' says it is standing by their chairman, Kalafi Moala, at the centre of a newspaper row in the Kingdom of Tonga.

Moala's newspaper, Taimi o Tonga, was declared a "prohibited import" by Tonga's government after it had exposed scandal relating to one of its ministers. The move has left a cloud over the future of his eight staff in Tonga, most of whom may have to be made redundant.

PIMA Vice-Chair, Iulia Leilua, says they will be encouraging all Tongans in New Zealand to buy the newspaper and mail it back to their families and friends at home in Tonga.

"This is the result of a few powerful people in Tonga making decisions which cuts off the majority's right to information," said Leilua. "Their prime reason according to a fax sent to Kalafi by Tonga's Finance Ministry, is that Taimi is a "foreign paper" owned by a "foreigner" with a political agenda and unacceptable standards of journalism. Kalafi was born and raised in Tonga, but exiled from his country because his paper uncovered alleged corruption within Tonga's government."

Ironically the ban could increase demand for the Taimi o Tonga newspaper back in Tonga, and PIMA believes Taimi's readers have a vital part to play in the reinstatement of the Taimi's sales in Tonga.

"We agree with Po'oi Pohiva, the liaison officer of Tonga's Human Rights and Democracy Movement Office, that this is a deliberate challenge to the people of Tonga," said Leilua. "History tells us that when you stifle access to knowledge, people ultimately rise up against that oppression to regain freedom to information. We urge all Tongans in New Zealand to email, fax and post copies of the Taimi back to their families in Tonga. There are 9000 Taimi readers back in Tonga who'll be wanting to know the latest independent news."

Last year PIMA awarded Moala a 'Freedom of the Press' award for his achievements as editor of the Taimi. Moala was jailed in 1996 with his deputy editor, Filokalafi Akauola, for allegedly publishing libelous material against Parliament. Pro-democracy MP, Akilisi Pohiva, was also jailed for allegedly leaking the libelous information to the newspaper. The trio were tried by Tonga's legislative assembly but only served 26 of their 30 days in jail after a New Zealand judge declared their jailing was unconstitutional and unlawful.

The story makes compelling reading in a book Moala published last year, 'Island Kingdom Strikes Back: The Story of An Independent Island Newspaper - Taimi o Tonga'. In it Moala tells of his experiences running an independent newspaper in Tonga and the political persecution he and his staff suffered by their monarchy backed government.

"Do I believe Tonga is a special place and its people special?" asks Moala in his book, "You bet I do. We are no better than others, but we do have our ability to make a unique contribution for ourselves and to the world of nations. Tongans are a people endowed with unique gifts and aims. For our children to develop these talents, we must not only reform our governmental structure, but also our culture, our families and our very lives so we can be relevant in this 21st Century. God help us!"

PIMA is a media organisation that was established in 2001 to support and develop Pacific media in New Zealand.

PIMA will start fundraising for Moala's staff and his appeal against the Tongan government decision with a Pacific Island film night at the Moving Image Centre in Auckland on Saturday, March 15. Copies of Moala's book will also be sold on the night and he will give a special keynote address.

© Scoop Media

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