27 Dec 2019

Media Council: No balance to criticism of former Tonga Prime Minister

10:56 am on 27 December 2019

The Media Council has ruled there was no balance to the criticism of Tonga's Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pōhiva in an article titled Tonga's PM accused of insincerity at Pacific Forum published on RNZ on 22 August, 2019.

090514. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Radio New Zealand House.

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The article said although Pōhiva (who has subsequently died) was praised for shedding tears of empathy over the impact of climate change at the Pacific Forum, he had been accused of insincerity and hypocrisy, as homes and schools in Tonga had not been repaired a year after being damaged by Cyclone Gita.

The story reported that social media posts had accused the prime minister of putting on a 'Hollywood act' while doing nothing for local people. An unidentified teacher who criticised the PM was quoted, as well as a local newspaper editor.

A complaint to the Media Council said the article had been based solely on unidentified sources and an editor, who was a political opponent of the prime minister, who had stood against him in elections, and that no balancing comment had been included.

The Council noted that criticism of the PM and government was eventually balanced, but that it was concerned about the time that elapsed before a response was published.

Although politicians can expect to encounter robust criticism, the Council felt that fairness required the PM to be more promptly offered a right of reply to what were serious allegations. The Council considered that the six-day delay was too long to wait before publishing a response to serious criticism.

The full Media Council decision is at mediacouncil.org.nz.