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'It's For The Tongan People,' Says Award Winner

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By Sudesh Kissun

AUCKLAND (Te Waha Nui/Pacific Media Watch): Auckland mechanic Alani Taione says he is humbled to win the Pacific Islands Media Association's annual media freedom award.

Taione, 38, who was charged with trying to enter Tonga with copies of the banned Taimi 'o Tonga, says he is looking forward to returning to the island kingdom with the newspaper.

The Tongan Supreme Court has thrown out constitutional changes and media laws that had banned the newspaper, published in Auckland, from entering the country.

The legal challenge against the Tongan Government was spearheaded by the newspaper, Taione and a group of democracy activists.

"I am proud to be given the media freedom award," says Taione.

"I have not done all this for payback, but to help my family and people back in Tonga," he says.

"It is also pleasing to be a role model for media freedom."

PIMA vice chairperson Lito Vilisoni says Taione was chosen as the winner because of his successful crusade against the Tongan Government.

His case was recently highlighted by the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières and many other international media freedom organisations.

Taione says the court decision delivered two weeks ago was a victory for media freedom in the region.

"The ruling means the right of freedom of speech and information is very much alive in Tonga," he says.

"We have got nothing out of the court case - it's a victory for the people of Tonga."

Taione says he intends to return to Tonga with copies of Taimi 'o Tonga as soon as he can afford to go.

"I want to go to Tonga straight away but I need to arrange finance," he says.

Taione has become a media star since taking on the Tongan authorities over media freedom.

He says winning the court case against the Tongan Government was his biggest achievement.

Taione has been living in Auckland since 1987.

* Taimi 'o Tonga publisher Kalafi Moala won PIMA's inaugural Media Freedom Award in 2002 and his newspaper won last year.



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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