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Taimi Publisher Blasts 'Smear' Campaign Media Grp.

Taimi Publisher Blasts 'Smear' Campaign Media Group

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AUCKLAND (Taimi 'o Tonga/Pacific Media Watch): Auckland-based Tongan newspaper publisher Kalafi Moala has launched a strong attack on the alleged "smear" tactics of the kingdom's conservative Tonga Media Association, accusing it of turning a blind eye to corruption.

Moala, whose newspaper Taimi 'o Tonga was banned for four months by the Tongan government, described the TMA in a media statement today as being similar to a government department - a "tool dancing" to state wishes.

He said the association's members had brought discredit on themselves by allowing the offices of Tonga's Prime Minister and Police Minister of Police to dictate TMA actions.

The attack on the TMA follows last week's condemnation by the association of foreign media coverage of the kingdom.

The TMA president, Sangster Saulala, manager of a newspaper and television station, was accused by Moala of launched a relentless smear campaign against Tonga's Chief Justice Gordon Ward in recent weeks.

"These attacks were intended to force the Chief Justice to resign so the Tongan government could appoint a replacement who would bow to its dictates," Moala claimed.

"The TMA is the same group which fully endorses a proposed amendment to Tonga's constitution where the freedom of speech clause would be substantially altered and the power of the courts to review executive and legislative ordinances obliterated."

"It was Chief Justice Ward who ruled twice in favour of the Taimi's application to lift the government's ban and issued an injunction ordering the government to lift its embargo.

"While questioning the court's jurisdiction to review decisions of the King, the government remained remarkably silent on the issue of the smear campaign."

TMA president Saulala had said the New Zealand media had "falsely depicted corruption" in Tonga.

"Fearing government reaction, the association has turned a blind eye to the mess and the crisis of corruption in their homeland," Moala said.

"What do they want, a list of shame depicting every act of corruption exposed?"

Moala said that while giving evidence at a court hearing about the newspaper ban in April, Saulala had confirmed that he had been contacted by 'Eseta Fusitu'a of the Prime Minister's Office, urging him to write a letter supporting the Taimi ban. The TMA, affiliated to the Suva-based Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), was said to have made a "sudden announcement" on February 26 introducing a "code of ethics" for Tongan media groups - the same day that Taimi was banned by the Tongan government.

Moala challenged why the Prime Minister's Office issued statements claiming one of the reasons for banning Taimi was that it "did not follow the Tonga Media Association code of ethics".

Mateni Tapueluelu, Tonga-based editor of Taimi, asked: "How can we follow a code of ethics that did not exist, a code of ethics only hurriedly issued the day the newspaper was banned?"



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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