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Tongan Government Hits Back At Ifj Protest

Tongan Government Hits Back At Ifj Protest

Tongan government statement:

  • IFJ statement:

  • NUKU'ALOFA (Tonga Information Unit/Pacific Media Watch): The Tongan Government has condemned a protest by the International Federation of Journalists over the state of press freedom in the kingdom, including the recent "shutdown" of newspapers over licences.

    It said in a statement that distribution of the papers was "momentarily delayed".

    The statement accused the IFJ, the world's largest body of journalists, and Pacific Media Watch, which was among groups publicising the February 6 protest, of "misinformation".

    "The Tongan Government wishes to reaffirm that print media in Tonga was not shutdown," the statement said.

    "Distribution of newspapers was momentarily delayed because licence applications were incomplete. Licence applications were not satisfactorily completed until 2 February 2004.

    "The responsibility for completing the application forms lay with the applicants. Two days after completion of the application forms newspaper licenses were granted 4 February 2004 and issued 6 February 2004.

    "The Media Operators Act 2003 and Newspaper Act 2003 were passed by Parliament on 20 October, 2003 and gazetted on 27 November, 2003. Newspaper Regulations were passed and gazetted on 16 December 2003."

    The statement also said a comment in the protest that penalties for an unlicensed publisher included a $10,000 fine and up to one year imprisonment was "incomplete and therefore misleading".

    "It fails to account for the other criteria that would incur the penalties which include the sale and distribution of any newspaper which is unlawful under the provisions of the Act."

    "One would hope that the IFJ, as a beacon for journalists worldwide, would take the time to verify its facts," the statement said.

    The IFJ statement had accused the Tongan government of having introduced the Media Act to gain greater control over the kingdom's media.

    "The licensing of publishers and distributors of newspapers is being successfully used as a tool to curb the freedom of the press in Tonga," said IFJ president Christopher Warren in a letter to the government.

    "It is vital for democracy that the media is allowed to work freely and independently without attempts at Government intervention and control."

    The IFJ also protested against the series of the bans on the independent Taimi 'o Tonga newspaper leading up to the recent legislation.



    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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