Kaniva News rejects Tongan Parliament’s demand for retraction

The Parliament has demanded that Kaniva Tonga News retract what it described as “misleading articles”.

Speaker Lord Fakafanua. Photo/Fale Alea ‘O Tonga

In a press release yesterday evening the Tonga Legislative Assembly said it wanted to make corrections to information currently being  circulated in some news and social media regarding the live radio broadcasting of Parliamentary debates.

Kaniva News stands by its story and has rejected Parliament’s demand for a retraction.  

The Parliament’s warning yesterday mostly targeted an article published by Matangi Tonga Online on August 22, claiming that radio broadcasts had been silenced during debate on the Auditor General’s Report for 2021-2022.

The Auditor General’s report warned that the government had not learned from previous reports and that the same failures had been reported in its findings for the 2022/23 fiscal year.

This included the government’s failure, among others, to reconcile the Ministry of Finance financial records with the bank’s records of government accounts. It said there were issues caused by a problem in the government payroll system, lack of extra information needed to clearly describe financial particulars, and no official records of the government’s investments in its business services.

The Parliamentary press release said Matangi Tonga’s report about silencing the broadcasts was “False and Misleading”.

However, in the last paragraph of the release the Parliament mentioned Kaniva Tonga news as one of the news outlets it demanded retraction.  

Kaniva news can confirm that it did not publish anything about the claims that the radios were silenced during debate on the Auditor General’s Report for 2021-2022.  

It appears that Parliament was referring to a story published by Kaniva News this week on Monday, August 28, titled “Senior Tongan journalist concerned by Parliament’s “media blackout”. The story was first published by the New Zealand radio station 531pi Pacific Media Network (PMN) after it interviewed Kaniva News editor Kalino Latu.

In that story Mr Latu told PMN he was saddened by Tongan parliament effectively staging a “media blackout” – blocking the public and media from getting access to Parliamentary sessions and debates because the Parliament stopped updating its website with official Parliamentary records and debates in June 2023.

Mr Latu was responding after the 531pi reporter asked about the news that the Speaker, Lord Fakafanua, announced that the House was no longer funding daily radio broadcasts of the proceedings of the House.

Mr Latu told the radio that the pubic believed this was a media blackout with critics believing it was politically motivated.

We reported that the last time the Parliament updated its Hansards on its website was in June 2023. Kaniva News stands by its report. This was what happened before and after the 531pi radio interviewed Mr Latu and published the story of that interview on its website. The story was  republished by Kaniva News on its website the same day.

Kaniva News had checked out the Parliament website on that day and on the morning of Tuesday 29 and there were still no updates of the minutes. The last Hansard on the Parliament website was still the Minute number 25  of June 28, 2023. However, on another check out on Tuesday we noticed that the minutes of August 16 and August 17 had finally been uploaded. Later on we noticed that further two minutes of August 8 and August 14 had been uploaded.

The Parliament’s press release yesterday did not deny our report that it had stopped updating the Hansard to its website in June. It also did not deny  our report that the Speaker had said the Parliament no longer paid for the live broadcasting of the debates.

As of this morning the Hansards for August 7, August 9, August 10 and August 11, August 15, August 18 as well as August 28 have yet to be uploaded to its website.

Kaniva News obtained a copy of the Parliament sittings calendar for 2023 titled in Tongan as Tohi Māhina Ngāue ‘a e Fale Alea 2023.

It shows that for this month the Parliament must hold its sitting days on August 7, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 28, 29, 30 and 31. The Parliament owes the public an explanation on why it did not have all the Hansards for these days on its website except the Hansards of  August 30 and 31, which are expected to be uploaded later this week or early next week.

It also owes the public and Kaniva News an explanation on why it only started uploading the August’s Hansards this week after our story was published on Monday.  

The Speaker told the House on August 16 that it would only take one or two days (“’aho ‘e taha pe ‘aho ‘e ua”) before the Hansards were available on the Parliament’s website.

This is contrary to the minutes of August as the Hansards of August 8, August 14, August 16 and August 17 were only uploaded this week, about two weeks after those sittings, and after Kaniva News ran its story on Monday. This was why Mr Latu said the public saw this as a “Media Blackout”.

We also reported that the House no longer paid for broadcasters to air Parliament’s debates live. This was a fact and the Speaker admitted it during a Parliament sitting saying that the House no longer afford it. According to the Hansard number 30 of August 16 page 9, the Speaker Lord Fakafanua made the admission in Tongan as follows:

“Ko e palopalema ko ení ‘oku ‘ikai ko ha me’a fo’ou koe’uhí na’e kamata maí na’a tau totongi ‘etautolu e letiō. Pea ‘alu pē taimí ia ‘o lahi ange e pa’anga ia ‘oku mole ki he letiō he pa’anga ‘oku tuku mai ke fai ‘aki ‘etau ngāué”.

In English (translated by Kaniva News) he said:

“This problem is not new because in the beginning we paid for the radio. As time went by it was over budget”.

The Speaker also said in Tongan:

“Pea ‘i he’ene pehē ‘oku ‘ikai ke tau totongi ‘a nautolu pea ‘oku nau fa’iteliha pē nautolu pe te nau fie nofo pe te nau fie ‘alu ka ko e tu’unga ia ‘oku ‘i ai he ‘aho ní”.

This translates into English as follows:

“As a result, we do not pay them (radio stations) and they are free if they want to broadcast it or not that’s the situation today”.

The Speaker also told the MPs if they wanted to pay for it, they could donate to or sponsor the radio stations.

However, the Parliament and the Minister of Finance finally agreed, after a motion from the people’s bench supported by the Nobles’ MPs, that the government would increase the Parliament’s budget to fund the broadcasting and make sure the House debates continued to be publicised as a matter of public interest.

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