28 Jul 2003

Fears in Tonga that restrictive Media Operator's Bill could pass

4:58 pm on 28 July 2003

There are fears in Tonga that the Media Operator's Bill, which would ban foreigners from owning media in Tonga, could pass this week.

It comes as Parliament also resumes debate on controversial changes to the constitution which many commentators say will dramatically limit media freedom.

Both measures were prompted by the government's failure to ban the Taimi O Tonga newspaper published by Kalafi Moala.

The Media Operator's Bill was initially directed at Mr Moala, who holds American citizenship.

But Lopeti Senituli of the Human Rights and Democracy Movement says the Bill, in its new draft, purports to ban all foreigners from running media in Tonga.

He says the measure reeks of malice.

The measure was deferred last month after its opponents won a ballot by 12 votes to 11, with the seven pro-democracy MPs and a number of the nobles voting against it.

But Mr Senituli says they fear the Government could succeed if a vote is held this week, because two of the pro-democracy MPs are out of the country.

"if the configuration stays the same then the bill could very well pass by eleven ballots to ten because two of the peoples representatives are overseas"