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Former broadcaster's victory at the polls offers new momentum to media freedom in Pacific, says PFF

(PFF/IFEX) - December 1, 2010, Rarotonga, Cook Islands - Signs that Tonga's new leadership will look into clarifying the status of a longtime entry ban on New Zealand journalist Michael Field are being welcomed by the Pacific Freedom Forum, or PFF.

In one of his first interviews after a landslide win for his Democratic Party last week, party leader Akilisi Pohiva said the ban on Field was a bad move, and that media freedom is an "important part of democracy." However, the ban was apparently lifted during the hosting of the 2005 Pacific Islands News Association conference in Tonga. Field did not attend. "We warmly congratulate our media colleague Akilisi Pohiva on his win at the polls in the historic elections held last week in Tonga. His insights and perspectives as a journalist and media leader in Tonga bring a different dimension to his political leadership. It can only boost media awareness by other Pacific leaders," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea.

"Pohiva's inspiring crusade for transparency and access to information in Tonga has now gained momentum with his election victory. He's holding a fantastic entry point now to remind elected officials everywhere that a free media, able to do its job without fear or favour, is what thriving democracies are all about."

Pohiva is a former broadcaster and publisher imprisoned for contempt of Parliament and charged with sedition during his media career. He is a founding member of Tonga's Human Rights and Democracy Movement and leads the Democratic Party, which commanded a majority at the polls on November 25.

"It's early days yet, but there have been encouraging signals of a leadership committed to transparency and we hope it ushers in an open-door policy for media no matter how controversial or sensitive the issue to government officials," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller of American Samoa. "It's an inspiring example for other Pacific leaders who are watching Tonga."

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