Pacific Media Watch
Publisher of banned Tongan newspaper vows to fight on

Title -- 3952 TONGA: Publisher of banned Tongan newspaper pledges to fight on
Date -- 27 February 2003
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- Taimi 'o Tonga/Niu FM/PMW 27/2/03
Copyright -- PMW
Status -- Unabridged

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Background article, picture:

Official Tongan government statement on the ban, 27 February 2003

RSF protests against Tongan newspaper ban

Tongan democracy movement condemns newspaper ban

PIMA calls on Tongan readers to support banned paper

Government 'insults intelligence' of common Tongans, says banned paper

AUCKLAND (Taimi 'o Tonga/Niu FM/Pacific Media Watch): The publisher of Tonga's banned independent newspaper, Kalafi Moala, today pledged to fight on, saying the paper had been declared a "prohibited import" because it had exposed corruption by ministers.

Moala told Radio Niu FM, New Zealand's Pacific radio network, that the Tongan government had wanted to gag Taimi 'o Tonga (Times of Tonga) because the Auckland-based publication was the kingdom's only independent newspaper.

"It has wanted to shut us down for 14 years," he said, saying that exposes of ministers exploiting government contracts through private companies without public tenders had probably led to the ban.

The twice-weekly Taimi 'o Tonga can no longer be delivered from its printing base in Auckland, New Zealand, although it can still be distributed in New Zealand, Australia and Hawai'i.

Its latest edition went to press last night.

Moala told Niu FM that 9000 readers in Tonga would lose their source of independent news and he would be forced to retrench about eight staff.

The ban is the most draconian act against a newspaper regarded as a strong pro-democracy advocate.

Last November, Moala, his Tongan office manager Filokalafi 'Akauola, and pro-democracy MP 'Akilisi Pohiva were awarded a combined US$26,000 by the Supreme Court in compensation for being jailed unconstitutionally for contempt of Parliament for 26 days in 1996.

Moala wrote about the intimidation and harassment of his newspaper and corruption in the Tongan government in a controversial book published last year, Island Kingdom Strikes Back.

He was also awarded a Pacific media freedom award last year.

"This ban is the most serious and damaging action that the government of Tonga has carried out against our newspaper," Moala told Pacific Media Watch.

"Over the past 14 years, we've been sued numerous times, we have been imprisoned, our trading licence suspended, and now the newspaper has been banned from Tonga.

Although he said no specific reasons had been given, a government statement claimed that the newspaper had "campaigned ruthlessly" in an attempt to overthrow the regime.

The government also claimed that it was "foreign owned".

Tongan-born Moala is a United States citizen, he lives in Auckland and the newspaper is registered and published in New Zealand.

Most of his editorial and support staff are Tongan citizens and the paper easily outsells any local publication in Tonga.

"The government of Tonga informed us that the Taimi 'o Tonga is a prohibited import into the Kingdom of Tonga," Moala said.

"The Minister of Finance, who is the Controller of Customs, wrote on behalf of government.

"He cited Section 34 of the Customs and Excise Act, which says: 'The Controller may from time to time, by notice, prohibit the importation, carriage coastwise or exportation of any goods, and any such notice may prohibit importation...."

Moala said a Finance Ministry statement faxed to the newspaper last night after an appeal from the company's lawyer in Tonga said the ban was according to government policy.

It stated that Taimi 'o Tonga was:

* A foreign paper owned and published by a foreigner (referring to Moala)

* A "foreign concern with a political agenda".

* The "continuous standard of journalism" was unacceptable.

The letter said that the decision to prohibit the paper from Tonga would be enforced.

"Both our Tonga readers and advertisers have had their rights taken away, as well as us as an independent newspaper," Moala said.

"We will be fighting this unconstitutional, irrational and stupid order in court."

Title -- 3953 TONGA: RSF protests against Tongan newspaper ban
Date -- 27 February 2003
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- Reporters Sans Frontieres, 27/2/03
Copyright -- PMW
Status -- Unabridged
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PARIS (Reporters Sans Frontieres/Pacific Media Watch): Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) protested today at the Tongan government’s ban on the privately-owned biweekly paper Taimi ‘o Tonga (Times of Tonga), which recently denounced corruption and a decision by King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV to build a cigarette factory.

"The government’s ban earlier this week on importing the paper from New Zealand, where it is published, threatens the right of Tongans to independent news," the organisation said, calling on the prime minister, Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, to reverse the decision and allow the paper into the country.

Kalafi Moala, the paper’s publisher, who was deported to New Zealand in 1995, learned of the ban in a letter from the Tonga customs chief, Siosiua ‘Utoikamanu, according to the Associated Press.

He said he would appeal against the decision, which has meant laying off six of the paper’s eight journalists in Tonga.

Supporters of the king circulated a petition in January last year calling for the Times of Tonga to be banned. In March, the paper’s editor was charged with libelling the king.

"They’ve been trying to shut us down for 14 years and this ban definitely puts the paper under threat of closure," said Moala, who set up the paper’s headquarters in Auckland (New Zealand).

Title -- 3954 TONGA: Tongan democracy movement condemns newspaper ban
Date -- 27 February 2003
Byline -- Media release
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- Human Rights and Democracy Movement in Tonga (HRDMT), 27/2/03
Copyright -- HRDMT
Status -- Unabridged
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NUKU'ALOFA (HRDMT/Pacific Media Watch): The banning of the Taimi ‘o Tonga newspaper by the Tonga government today has marked in history a sad day for the people of Tonga.

Speaking on behalf of the Human Rights and Democracy Movement Office, liaison officer Po’oi Pohiva says,  “Media is the lifeblood of democracy.  The decision made by Tonga government to ban Taimi ‘o Tonga has effectively blocked the flow of information that is a necessary part of democracy.  This event hints at the uncertain future that this country is heading to.”

Po’oi says Taimi ‘o Tonga has been playing an essential and indispensable role for the people and the country in general since it started – although it may reflect that it often focus on how government performs its duties.

Po’oi says the banning of Taimi ‘o Tonga is just another form of prohibiting freedom of speech and of the press guaranteed by clause 7 of the Constitution.  But it is a freedom that is universally protected and respected and entrenched in Tonga’s constitution.

"Taimi 'o Tonga is a newspaper of the people and the banning of it is a deliberate challenge to the people of Tonga.”

Po’oi concluded by saying that the banning of Taimi ‘o Tonga is indicative of the decay in the current structure. 

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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Sunday, 9 March 2003

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