IFJ Remains Concerned Over Lack of Media Freedom in Tonga

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation of journalists representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, stands by its statement expressing concern over the so-called “momentary delay” of the distribution of newspapers in Tonga in February.

In a statement reported by Pacific Media Watch on 11 February, the government argued that newspaper distribution was not shutdown: rather it experienced a “momentary delay.” The Government of Tonga has argued that it was the failure of newspaper vendors and publishers to apply for the licences in time that led to the situation where the public was denied access to the print media for a period in February.

"Whichever way you look at it, the Government of Tonga is clamping down on press freedom with these new laws," said IFJ President, Christopher Warren. “Call it a momentary delay or a shutdown - the end result of these laws is the same: fewer newspapers in Tonga,” said Warren.

The IFJ has reiterated its views that new laws requiring the licensing of publishers, distributors and importers are a direct attack on freedom of the press in Tonga. According to the IFJ’s information, since the licensing laws were enacted, at least three media groups have been denied a licence.

The Tongan Government has been taking steps for a year now to attempt to silence the independent newspaper, Taimi O' Tonga (Times of Tonga), a biweekly published in Auckland. In 2003, the Tongan Government banned the imported privately owned biweekly paper for three months due to publishing accusations of Government corruption. A Supreme Court hearing on 26 May 2003 ordered that the ban be lifted allowing the paper to be sold in Tonga.

Subsequently, the Government of Tonga has introduced the Media Operators Act and the Newspaper Act into the royal controlled Parliament in 2003, in order to gain a greater control over the Tongan media. These two acts have resulted in the prevention of the distribution of the Taimi 'o Tonga. The Newspaper Act has legislated that all publishers apply for licences, resulting in a curbing of press freedom, with all independent newspapers such as the Taimi ‘O Tonga, being denied licences.

“The introduction of legislation to curb independent media in Tonga is a clear action by the Tongan Government to control public opinion and information in Tonga,” said Warren. “Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of democracy,” said the IFJ. ”If the Tongan Government persists in continuing to crush opposition voices, democracy and good governance will be the causalities.”

For further information, please contact Christopher Warren on +61 411 757 668

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries