4 Jun 2003

Concern over Tongan media clampdown

10:42 am on 4 June 2003

A Tongan MP says a government bill to amend the constitution is aimed at permanently banning the Taimi O Tonga newspaper from Tonga.

The New Zealand-produced paper has faced three months of bans, which the supreme court has declared unconstitutional.

But sales of the paper are still not being allowed in Tonga.

Isileli Pulu, one of the People's Representatives, says while the government wants to push the legislation through immediately, it has agreed to delay debating it for about a month.

Mr Pulu says during this time the elected MPs will go to the people and also raise a petition to voice opposition to the government clampdown.

He says they are also want to meet church leaders to ask them to use their influence to oppose the bill.

The publisher, Kalafi Moala, says they spent the last week waiting in good faith, after the government told them that it was only paperwork that was holding up the distribution.

But, he says instead it was a delaying tactic in order to introduce the amendments with clause seven a big problem.

"A person can be free to speak and to print anything as long as it complies with cultural traditions, as long as it doesn't violate the rights of people. They do not specify what cultural traditions are, but it leaves open for the government, to come up with the whole list of things, including that you cannot criticise the royal family, because that would be against cultural traditions, you could not criticise the government or the leadership of Tonga, so we're looking into a situation where there is a major movement to make the government of Tonga, far more dictatorial than it's ever been."

Kalafi Moala says by the end of the day, they'll be filing an injunction in court in order that the paper can be distributed.