PM’s call on Radio Tonga slammmed
By TEVITA SILIVA
NUKU’ALOFA-March 21: 11:02am(Nuku’alofa Times): Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s revelation that he wants to review the role of the Radio and Television Tonga operation because it has become “an enemy of the government” threatens media freedom in Tonga.
A local Noble and a regional media watchdog organisation have slammed the PM’s statements.
Many local media operators are shocked at the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, with some members of the country stating PM Pohiva has to stop being personal about issues.
Tonga was shocked earlier this week when Hon Pohiva, who has the tendency to show his personal feelings in his decisions, said he wants to review the operation of Tonga Broadcasting Commission, a state-owned public enterprise.
He said the company has become an enemy of government because they had dared to question him and his government.
Mr Pohiva said he was not happy with how the Tonga Broadcasting Commission operated and a review would be carried out over the next month.
He claims the services may be better carried out by a different provider.
Ever since 2015 PM Pohiva has used the privately owned and operated Broadcom Broadcasting, operators of the FM87.5 radio station during his interviews and live broadcasts of events he officiated at.
More recently, in the lead up to the Vote of No Confidence against his Government, PM Pohiva utilised the radio station to air his defense.
Hon Pohiva, who has long been at loggerheads with the management of the TBC, said the broadcaster was an obstacle and a real constraint on the work of government.
“They have become an enemy of government,” he said.
“They claim the freedom of media should be allowed, should be the same with any other media in Tonga but they should understand there is a basic difference between a private media and also government media. Their main role, to me, is to facilitate the work of the government.”
He added the TBC had also been running at a loss for the past 10 years.
The Pacific Freedom Forum said the threats and statements send the wrong message.
PFF Chair Monica Miller told RNZI that as a former pro-democracy reform movement, the current government should remember its roots.
“‘Akilisi Pohiva was this crusading newspaper editor speaking out for freedom of information and speaking out for the people’s right to know, freedom of expression. So for him to say these things, doesn’t sound like the ‘Akilisi we know “she said.
Ms Miller said it was not the job of any news media to support the government of the day, but to represent the public and their interests.
Tongan Noble and anti-corruption champion Lord Fusitu’a said any move to shut down the TBC would be in breach of the constitution.
He said there was also a Tonga Broadcasting Act which would need to be revoked and would have far-reaching ramifications.
“The very basis of any Westminster democracy is the rule of law and once you chip away at freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, you are chipping away at the rule of law which ends up, in most cases, disregard to the rule of law. Which is extremely destructive to any democracy of any sort,” he added.
PM Pohiva has been a strong critic of the TBC operation even while he was on the Opposition bench.
Last year he was heavily criticised in his handling of the Viola Ulakai case, after the senior journalist questioned him about the Exam marking system he had introduced.
PM Pohiva recommended Ms Ulakai’s expulsion from work, a move that was strongly condemned by the media operators here and abroad.
Former media advisor Kalafi Moala said then that “the man who was once jailed for his stand for press freedom in the kingdom of Tonga has now breached the same freedom by ordering a government journalist to be suspended “for asking hard questions”.
Mr Moala was jailed with Hon Pohiva in 1996 after the then member of Parliament leaked information to the media, resulting in contempt of Parliament case.
The Prime Minister had accused Ms Ulakai last year of being too insistent with her questions, particularly with issues regarding reform that he as Minister of Education is bringing about in the Ministry of Education.
The fallout and a mess in the Ministry after the 2015 exam results has been a confusing issue at the centre of much public discussion.
Ms Ulakai has been a journalist with the Government Broadcasting for 26 years.
Meanwhile, there has been no comment received from the TBC Management.
This newspaper had emailed General Manager Nanise Fifita for comments.
The Pacific Islands News Association is also yet to respond to the Prime Minister’s statement.
TBC operates both an FM and AM radio networks that covers the whole of Tonga.
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