16 Oct 2017

Media watchdog adds voice to Tonga dispute

5:05 pm on 16 October 2017

Tonga's government needs to stop using so-called losses as an excuse to gag Tonga's public broadcaster, a regional media watchdog says.

No caption

Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

The Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) is among those raising concerns in the wake of the latest management changes at the Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC).

News manager Viola Ulukai and editor Laumanu Petelō have been moved out of the newsroom and into sales.

The new chairman of the TBC board, Dr Tu'i Uata, told Kaniva News the change had to occur as the commission faced being shut down within two months because it was running at a loss.

PFF Chair Monica Miller said Pacific media colleagues were dismayed at the treatment of two women who had done nothing but be journalists.

"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", said Ms Miller.

Ms Miller said state broadcasters were not faced with the same pressures as commerical broadcasters and had a key role to inform people about what is happening with their own tax dollars.

She said Tonga should show regional leadership and urged the government to enter into talks with Tonga's media overseen by independent monitors.

The staff transfer at TBC follows months of complaints from the Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva over what he claimed was unfair, unethical reporting.

The dispute 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.

"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," said Ms Miller.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs