8 Oct 2004

Tongan court voids controversial media law changes

4:22 pm on 8 October 2004

Controversial changes to Tonga's media laws have been declared void by the Chief Justice, Robin Webster.

The ruling results from a challenge to the new laws from a group representing 169 Tongans.

Chief Justice Webster ruled that the Media Operator's Act hampers freedom of the press and denies the public access to information and the ability to comment freely.

He said the Newspaper Act cannot stand because it is too widely expressed, too unclear as to its limitations, and too intimidating, because a person cannot be sure whether or not what he writes may result in prosecution or even imprisonment.

Chief Justice Webster also ruled that parts of the constitutional amendment were inconsistent with the entrenched elements of the document.

Pro-democracy MP, Akilisi Pohiva, was one of the plaintiffs.

He says he was not surprised by the decision and is encouraging the government not to appeal.

"That decision made by the chief justice was clear and straight forward. The legal argument presented was thorough and clear."