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Tonga Broadcasting Commission shakeup raises concerns

Tonga's Prime Minister Samuela Akilisi Pohiva addresses the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, 24 September 2016
Tonga's Prime Minister Samuela Akilisi Pohiva addresses the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, 24 September 2016

AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

This statement was originally published on PFF's Facebook page on 14 October 2017.

Remember the people's right to know, and reset public media.

That's the call from regional media watchdog Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) as months of controversy continue at Tonga's public broadcaster, the Tonga Broadcasting Commission.

"Government needs to stop using so-called losses as an excuse to apply punitive changes aimed at gagging newsroom and management in a leading public broadcaster of the region," says PFF Chair Monica Miller.

"Informing the public about what is happening with their own tax dollars is a key role of state broadcasters, who are not faced by the profit-margin pressures of commercial broadcasters.

"But if a national broadcaster is expected to excel and deliver commercial targets on arguable resourcing, government needs to question itself rather than act against the public interest."

The PFF concerns are raised in the wake of the latest management changes at the TBC, with the two most senior journalists removed from news duty.


Transferred

Viola Ulakai, TBC news manager, and Laumanu Petelō, the editor, were transferred to the commission's sales department.

Kaniva Tonga reports that the "restructuring" order was made under direction of new TBC board chairman, Dr Tu'i Uata, who replaced 'Ahongalu Fusimālohi last month.

Says Miller, "Being moved from the editorial side of news to the sales department is an absolute horror for any journalist.

"Laumanu and Viola are leading Pacific trailblazers in journalism that is unafraid to ask the hard questions, and continues to put the public right to know to the fore. They are passionate about what they do and have faced cultural barriers and stereotypes about women in Pacific newsrooms for decades.

"We respectfully urge the government to enter into a special dialogue with Tonga's media and repeat earlier calls for Tonga to show regional 'leadership' and invite independent monitors to oversee talks between government and our Tongan media colleagues."

Transfer of the two staff from the TBC newsroom follow months of complaints from Prime Minister Akalisi Pohiva over what he claimed was unfair, unethical reporting.

Disputes over reporting first came to a head in May this year, after a minister declared "void" the automatic renewal of former general manager, Nanisē Fifita.

She took the government to court but a judge ruled against her.

"Pacific media colleagues everywhere are dismayed at this treatment of two women in journalism who have done nothing but be journalists," says Miller.

"We urge Tonga's leadership to take their grievances and allegations over breaches of ethics or standards by any journalist, to the national media body or to bring them to our attention where a mediated and objective report can be made possible."

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