OPINION: Media needs to shape up

Suspended senior TBC journo..Viola Ulakai


NUKU’ALOFA-April 23: 9am (Nuku’alofa Times): The Tonga media needs to shape up and be on par with the rest of the media in the region and the world at large.

What transpired between the Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva and long-time Tonga Broadcasting Commission journalist Viola Ulakai must be a lesson for everyone in the media industry in Tonga.

And it must be a pointer to the executives of the Tonga Media Council at that too.

While we may argue for and against what PM Pohiva has done in recommending the suspension of Mrs Ulakai pending a full investigation into allegations made by the head of Government, one fact still remains — Tonga media needs to shape up and practise to be Fair, Factual and Balanced.

For far too long a number of local media companies have shown their bias – either for or against government – current and past.

Most of those stance have been influenced by their political alignments.

It is a shame to the noble profession of journalism when journalists use their political alignments to influence how they report and share the information they have.

That is one reason many Governments have taken a hard stance against the media in their own countries.

While regulation of any form is deemed to be interference, the truth is media companies hardly even practise self regulation.

In the PM Pohiva – Viola Ulakai case, the issue that has been raised by the Prime Minister is the fact that the senior journo used the Tonga Media Council’s name while sending out email questions to the Ministry of Education in regards to issues surrounding the new marking system implemented by the current Government last year.

PM Pohiva said he was disappointed to find out that Mrs Ulakai had erred and led him to believe that she was in fact writing for the Council, instead of her own TBC company.

He raised the issue in a media statement circulated last week.

In response to that claim, the Council’s President Lady Luseane Luani said she had not known about that and was disappointed to find out that Mrs Ulakai had used the Council’s name in her correspondence of interview request.

Lady Luani went further to apologize for the issue and said no journalist is allowed to use the Council’s name for any purpose.

This week it was revealed that PM Pohiva had recommended Mrs Ulakai’s suspension pending full investigation.

In a statement issued yesterday PM Pohiva claimed he was not responsible for the journos’ temporary removal, which he had recommended to Public Enterprise Minister, Hon Poasi Tei.

But that claim has been slammed by some media operators, who said that Hon Pohiva’s recommendation was as good as a directive for the journalists’ removal.

The case in point needs to be a lesson for all journalists and media operators here.

The Council must ensure that there is a focal person who deals with everyone else on behalf of the local journalists and Council members.

Not any journalist writing and claiming that they are writing on behalf of the Council.

Internationally recognized rules states that organisations, clubs or Boards have either the President or the Secretary as the only people who are allowed to be corresponding on behalf of the Council.

Not any Tom, Dick or Harry. And if that is the practice here in Tonga then that needs to change because we need to be on par with the rest of the world and not vice versa.

At the same time journalists must be free of any political influence and work independently in their duty to deliver news that are Fair, Factual and Balanced.

No political interest must be seen to be influencing the individual media company’s stance.

We must be seen to be worthy of our calling.

And not allow ourselves to be used as puppets in any game of sorts!


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