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PINA voices concern over restrictions in national broadcaster's political programming in lead up to elections

(PINA/IFEX) - The following is a 23 April 2008 PINA press release:

The Pacific Islands News Association has called on the Government of the Kingdom of Tonga to allow free speech and access to media as it heads towards its general elections later this month.

President Joseph Ealedona said the introduction of restrictions by the Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC) smells of political control in this public broadcaster by the government of Tonga and does not help in any way if Tonga is to claim positive progress towards true democracy.

(Ed. Note: Staff at the TBC were stopped from hosting political programmes just two weeks prior to the elections. Instead, the interviewers of candidates were to be selected from non-journalists, including staff from the Prime Minister's office.)

"As the President of PINA, I am sad to say that public broadcasters in the region are increasingly being heavily censored and/or are being privatized and this is a concern that must be addressed and PINA intends to take that lead."

"As also the Managing Director of the Papua New Guinea public broadcaster, the NBC, I am proud to say that successive PNG Governments and people have respected the independence of the NBC and I urge all regional governments to emulate this example as public broadcasters remain and will continue to remain a very important institution of free speech."

The case of the TBC and the media in Tonga has been long standing and while PINA respects the decision of the TBC and the government of Tonga, it urges the Tongan Government to respect and to allow its people to exercise their fundamental rights of free speech, especially leading into the elections.

Ealedona also strongly urged the Tongan Media and the TBC to perform their role without fear and favour, with responsibility, and to take the lead on the ground in advocating a free and vibrant media.

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