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Press Councils on Tonga and the free press

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The Australian Press Council, the Fiji Media Council and the New Zealand Press Council ("the Councils") and The Australian and New Zealand branches of the Commonwealth Press Union ("the CPU")

The Councils and the CPU have observed with growing apprehension the reaction of the Government of the Kingdom of Tonga to the issues of free speech and the rights of a free press.

For some time now Kalafi Moala and his biweekly newspaper, Taimi 'o Tonga (Times of Tonga), published in Auckland New Zealand, have published detailed commentary on aspects of life in Tonga. Kalafi Moala has faced constant legal threats, and harassment, and even undergone a short jail term for his views and publications. Particular exception has been taken to issues of Taimi 'o Tonga that have included comments on the actions of members of the royal family - a constitutional monarchy in that country.

The most recent confrontation arises as a consequence of the action of the Tongan Privy Council (a ten person Cabinet appointed by the King to advise him) in banning Taimi 'o Tonga as a prohibited document. A subsequent Supreme Court decision overruled the ban. Then the Privy Council took unprecedented further action to over-rule even the Supreme Court, with the effect of re-imposing the ban. Kalafi Moala announced last week a further legal challenge to overturn the latest ban.

The actions of the Tongan Privy Council have been so inimical to the accepted standards governing the free speech, and the press, in the Pacific that the Councils and the CPU have for the first time united in a single voice to condemn these actions. In doing so, they endorse earlier critical comments from the Pacific Islands News Association.

To place a ban on the presence of a newspaper such as Taimi 'o Tonga within the borders of the kingdom and providing a penalty for its breach, solely on political grounds, is a severe incursion into free speech and the rights of a free press that are at the heart of a democratically governed country.

The concern of the Councils and the CPU is solely that of freedom of expression and a free press, in so far as those principles can be separated from the present actions of the Tongan Government. To ban the presence of the newspaper within its boundaries is to exercise a severe censorship of a free press and the Councils and the CPU express their deep concern at these actions. To attempt to deal with opposition views by way of censorship and legal prohibitions is wrong in principle. Opposition has a right to exist, and be heard, in a democracy.

* * * * * Australian contacts: Professor Ken McKinnon (Press Council): 0412 062 327 Warren Beeby (CPU): (02) 9288 3229

New Zealand Sir John Jeffries (Press Council): - 4 4735220 Gavin Ellis (CPU): - 9 379 5050

Fiji Daryl Tarte (Media Council):



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