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Government Insults Intelligence Of Common Tongans

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NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga (Taimi/Pacific Media Watch): The Tonga government and its "puppet" Tonga Media Association have insulted the intelligence of commoner Tongans and 40,000 readers of the banned newspaper Taimi 'o Tonga with statements defending the ban, claims Taimi.

After banning the popular twice-weekly newspaper on 26 February 2003 as "a prohibited import", the government and TMA statements said Taimi 'o Tonga (Times of Tonga) "has incited disaffection among the people of Tonga".

The president of the government-backed TMA, Sangster Saulala, said: "Any useful discussion of journalistic performance of the Taimi 'o Tonga can only be done by those who read and understand Tongan, and are regular readers of the paper".

Saulala was trying to rule out any "foreign" involvement or "foreign press" criticism over the newspaper's ban, claims Taimi.

The statement posted on the Tongan government website said non-Tongan readers who got "infrequent translations" were not qualified to pass "judgement on the Taimi 'o Tonga's journalistic performance".

"The inferences in these statements are that the people of Tonga who read the Taimi 'o Tonga regularly, and have supported it for the past 14 years, are dumb, easily led astray, and have no useful contribution to the judgement concerning the journalistic performance of the newspaper," publisher Kalafi Moala said from his Auckland office.

"The government and TMA did not point out the fact that Taimi 'o Tonga is not only the most read newspaper in Tonga, but that over 40,000 Tongans read the newspaper regularly."

Moala said the attitude expressed by Tonga's government and TMA was sad but not surprising.

"Throughout human history, imperialists, colonialists, and oppressors always look down on common people, and always believe that they do not have the intelligence to make judgements on the truth," he said.

"From Hitler, Lenin, Marcos, and Mugabe, they always believe that people are dumb, and therefore what they should be told needed to be censored and controlled."

Moala said: "The government of Tonga in its typical oppressive stance, wants to control what the common people of Tonga should or should not know. That is the chief rational behind the banning of Taimi 'o Tonga."

Moala said that the issue of "cultural sensitivity" was a farce.

"In recent times, Tonga's ruling elite had assigned Tongan culture to be synonymous with the aristocracy. In other words, whenever they talk about cultural sensitivity, they mean that the commoners should be sensitive to the royal family and the aristocracy.

"It's not Tongan culture, just the culture of the aristocracy. Never mind the cultural values of ordinary Tongans.

"This is an attempt from another angle to halt any criticism of the ruling elite, calling criticism 'cultural insensitivity'."

In a statement signed by the Minister of Finance, Siosiua 'Utoikamanu, who is also the Controller of Customs, the Taimi 'o Tonga was declared "to be seditious or advocating violence, lawlessness or disorder".

The government also said that the newspaper had "ruthlessly campaigned for the overthrow of Tonga's constitutional government structure".

Moala denied that his newspaper was seditious or in any way advocating violence, lawlessness or disorder.

He also said that it was "bizarre how government could interpret criticism of government structure, policy and practice as a campaign to overthrow the government".

He said: "These insecure, aging men in Cabinet must be really afraid of something to accuse the newspaper of trying to overthrow them.

"In 1996, Police Minister Clive Edwards told the Fiji Times (published Monday, 14 October 1996) that I had been 'campaigning in the villages... suggesting that if King Taufa'ahau Tupou ... did not accept changes this year he might get shot'."

Edwards had also claimed that Taimi 'o Tonga was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the king.

Moala said this was a fabrication.

"I wrote [to the minister] about it, as well as complaining to the Attorney General, but he has never corrected his statements," Moala said.

Moala believes that it was "probably the same man" who had made the accusation that Taimi 'o Tonga had been campaigning to overthrow the government structure.

"If criticising corruption in government is seditious, then I'm guilty. And if calling for democratic reforms in Tonga is seditious, then I'm guilty. To call on the government to stop doing foolish things, to stop abusing the poor and needy, and to stop catering to just the few who are elite, if that is seditious, then I am guilty," Moala said.

"I am reminded of something the late Bishop Patelesio Finau said, that if the oppression in Tonga was coming from outsiders, there would be an uprising, but the abuse and oppression that is coming on the common people are from our own people, the aristocracy and the ruling elite."

Moala said that just as the government had done with the sale of Tongan citizenship and passports in the 1980s, it might pass a law to oppress the independent media and stop any dissenting voice.



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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