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REGIONS:

MOUNTING CONCERN OVER PROPOSED MEDIA RESTRICTIONS

Concerns are mounting in Tonga over moves by the government to restrict press freedom, including a new law aimed at shutting down the country's only independent newspaper, reports the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA).

At its recent annual meeting in Samoa, PINA joined Tongan media representatives, including Kalafi Moala, the publisher of the "Taimi 'o Tonga" newspaper, in expressing concern over the Media Operators Act and the introduction of bills dictating what media can report.

Passed by Tonga's legislature on 30 July, the Media Operators Act bars foreigners from owning more than 20 per cent of a Tongan newspaper, reports the "New Zealand Herald." That effectively means "Taimi 'o Tonga" (Times of Tonga), whose publisher is Tongan but holds American citizenship, will be forced to shut down.

"Taimi 'o Tonga" is the country's only independent newspaper and a frequent critic of the government, adds "The Guardian." Since its launch in 1989, the paper has broken several stories exposing official corruption. Moala says he intends to challenge the new law in court.

Meanwhile, the government plans to introduce new bills that would amend the constitution and allow it censor the publication of any comments that "go against Tongan culture," "The Guardian" reports.

PINA says these laws "dictate what newspapers and media operators can say or report, so this would represent a severe infringement on Tongan society's inherent right to know what's been done in its name and the right of the media to inform people."

PINA says rather than allow the government to impose standards on journalists, the media should regulate themselves by establishing an independent media council.

For more information, visit these links:

- PINA: http://www.rnzi.com

- International Press Institute: http://www.freemedia.at/wpfr/Australasia/tonga.htm

- Pacific Media Watch: http://www.pmw.c2o.org

- The Guardian: http://media.guardian.co.uk/presspublishing/comment/0,7495,1012687,00.html

- Taimi 'o Tonga: http://www.tongatimes.com/

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