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PIMA Calls TongansTo Support Banned Newspaper

PIMA Calls Tongan Readers To Support Banned Newspaper

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AUCKLAND (PIMA/Pacific Media Watch): The Pacific Islands Media Association today appealed to Tongan readers of the banned newspaper Taimi 'o Tonga (Times of Tonga) to launch a "mail back home" campaign in support.

The appeal came as Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières and other global media freedom groups protested to the Tongan government, calling on the Prime Minister, Prince 'Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, to drop the ban.

Iulia Leilua, a television journalist who is vice-chair of the Auckland-based PIMA, said her association would encourage all Tongans in New Zealand to buy Taimi o' Tonga and mail it back to their families and friends at home in Tonga.

She said that ironically the ban could increase demand for the paper in Tonga.

"Taimi's readers have a vital part to play in the sales in Tonga," she said. The twice-weekly Tongan language paper is printed and published in Auckland.

"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."

Leilua said PIMA stood by its chairperson, Kalafi Moala, who is publisher of the banned newspaper.

Taimi 'o Tonga was declared a "prohibited import" by Tonga's government after a series of stories exposing scandals involving its ministers.

The ban has jeopardised the future of Lali Communications' eight newspaper staff in Tonga, most of whom may have to be laid off.

"This ban 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."

Moala was born and raised in Tonga, but exiled from his country because his paper uncovered alleged corruption in Tonga's government."

Last year PIMA awarded Moala a Pacific Freedom of the Press award for his achievements as publisher of the Taimi.

Moala was jailed in 1996 with his then deputy editor, Filokalafi Akau'ola, for alleged contempt of Parliament.

Pro-democracy MP 'Akilisi Pohiva was also jailed for contempt of Parliament when he leaked information to the newspaper.

They were set free by a Supreme Court judge from New Zealand four days before the end of their 30-day sentence. The judge ruled the jailing unconstitutional and the three men last November were awarded a combined total of US$26,000 in damages for their wrongful jailing.

Moala told his story of harassment and persecution in a book published last year, Island Kingdom Strikes Back: The Story of an Independent Island Newspaper - Taimi 'o Tonga.

The Reporters Sans Frontières media freedom group protested yesterday to the Tongan government.

"The government's ban earlier this week on importing the paper from New Zealand, where it is published, threatens the right of Tongans to independent news," RSF said.

It called on the Prime Minister, Prince ŒUlukalala Lavaka Ata, to reverse the decision and allow the paper into the country.

The Human Rights and Democracy Movement in the Tongan capital of Nuku'alofa described the ban as "a sad day" for the people of Tonga.

Liaison officer Po¹oi Pohiva said: "Media is the lifeblood of democracy."

President Johnson Honimae of the Suva-based Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) appealed to Prince 'Ulukalala to "urgently reconsider" the ban.

This followed confirmation from the Tongan Government that it had banned importing the newspaper, alleging it was foreign and trying to "overthrow" Tonga's government structure.



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 based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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