Regional journalism body criticises Pōhiva, says TBC affair undermined media freedom

The President of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Moses Stevens, has criticised Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva over the Tonga Broadcasting Corporation affair.

In a statement issued to mark World Press Freedom Day, Stevens accused the Tongan government of effectively censoring the media after journalist Viola Ulakai was suspended.

“The threats and harassment of the senior Tonga Broadcasting Commission journalist was uncalled for and undermined media freedom,” Stevens said.

He accused the Tongan government of ignoring freedom of expression and suppressing vital information from the media.

“The Tongan case is interesting because it involved a Prime Minister who was a respected champion for democracy, free speech, freedom of expression and free media,” Stevens said.

“We remind our governments to adhere to the principles of good governance, transparency and rule of law and respect the rights of the media to operate freely.”

Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva’s office said last week the suspension of Ulakai was not an attack on media freedom.

Hon. Pohiva’s office called criticism of the Prime Minister ill-informed.

Ulakai was stood down from her job after claiming to be calling for a press conference on behalf of the Tonga Media Council.

Kaniva News comment by Kalino Lātū

We said it before that Kaniva News does not condone the idea of governments persecuting media and journalists.

However, we believe that Tonga’s state broadcaster has been biased and unfair in its reporting of ‘Akilisi Pōhiva and the Democrats. Bias and unfairness are unacceptable and cannot be justified in journalism.

Somebody had to do something to put an end to the state broadcaster’s aggression towards Pōhiva and his large number of supporters, which can be traced back to the first time Pōhiva was elected in 1987.

We believe that TBC journalist Viola Ulakai breached the Tonga Media Council’s code of ethics especially when she claimed to the Prime Minister’s Office that she represented the TMC.

The recommendation to suspend Ulakai with pay pending an investigation was fair.

In other countries journalists have suffered much harsher fates. In 2013 some senior journalists from Papua New Guinea’s government-run radio and television stations, the  National Broadcasting Corporation and Kundu 2 lost their jobs for allegedly reporting against the government.

About 90 percent of the media in Tonga has taken a stand against ‘Akilisi Pōhiva and his supporters. We believe that bias should be redressed and replaced with fairer standards of reporting.

Although Pōhiva’s government has often claimed it is the most transparent government Tonga has ever had, Kaniva News cannot completely agree.

We have raised this issue previously in a number of our articles including one in which we said “Unfortunately, journalists are used to the Tongan authorities not being transparent and reluctant to respond to media“.

It is not only the local media that needs to sort out their problems. The government – and especially the Prime Minister’s Information Unit – also has a lot of work to do.

Kaniva News has reported criticism of Hon. Pōhiva and his government because that is part of our job. But we have also reported on the government’s successes because that, too, is our job.

We should be honest about our responsibilities and our efforts to upgrade the standard of journalism in the region. We need to make sure we can see and address the causes of the  problems and not just their effects.

The main points

  • The President of the Pacific Islands News Association, Moses Stevens, has criticised Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva over the Tonga Broadcasting Corporation affair.
  • “The threats and harassment of the senior Tonga Broadcasting Commission journalist was uncalled for and undermined media freedom,” Stevens said.
  • Pohiva’s office said last week the suspension of TBC journalist Viola Ulakai was not an attack on media freedom.
  • His office called criticism of the Prime Minister ill-informed.

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