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TBC Chairman wrong says lawyer

Viola Ulakai and Laumanu Petelo Photo: RNZI / Twitter

NUKU’ALOFA – October 18: 6.50pm (Nuku’alofa Times/RNZI): Tonga Broadcasting Commission Board Chairman Tui Uata is wrong in moving two senior journalists our of the newsroom into the company’s marketing unit, their lawyer has claimed.

Former Minister of Justice and experienced lawyer Clive Edwards said Mr Uata’s action against editor Laumanu Petelo and news manager Viola Ulakai by moving them into the marketing department was illegal.

Both journalists had run-ins this year with Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva who called the TBC an enemy of government because of its critical coverage.

Mr Uata said the move was because the TBC was running at a loss and its content was unpopular.

But Mr Edwards said it was a political move which had broken the law, particularly in the case of Ms Ulakai.

“They’ve got a contract. They’ve eliminated that and assigned her to something totally inexplicable insofar as to what is required of her. In other words, they have just removed her. In effect what they are doing is removing her from her job so the way can be clear for the chairman to take over,” he said.

Mr Edwards said he was preparing breach of contract proceedings for the women.

Mr Uata has told the public through media statements that he was bringing business expertise into the TBC.

But many feel that he was being rewarded as a close friend and associate of Prime Minister Pohiva.

Mr Uata is in the circle of friends that PM Pohiva keeps.


Media watchdog slams action

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

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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.

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