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OPINION: Free press important pillar of democratic society

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We can all agree that a free press reporting the news without political control is one of the important pillars of a democratic society. Take this away and democracy will erode into dictatorship. It is also the first line of defense against government corruption and tyranny.

By ANA TAUSINGA

NUKU’ALOFA – January 7, 2019: 9.45am (Nuku’alofa Times) The new slogan of the influential U.S. newspaper, The Washington Post, “Democracy Dies In The Dark” caught my attention.

The owner, Jeff Bezos, who is one of the world’s wealthiest men, and founder of the tech giant, Amazon, stated in an interview, “I think a lot of us believe this, that democracy dies in darkness, that certain institutions have a very important role in making sure that there is light.”

This made me think about Tonga’s current media dilemma: government in the way of the public getting unbiased information as news. We can all agree that a free press reporting the news without political control is one of the important pillars of a democratic society. Take this away and democracy will erode into dictatorship.

Here is an example, after becoming Prime Minister, Pohiva caused controversy when he quickly got rid of all the management and experienced journalists working at Tonga’s state owned media, Tonga Broadcasting Commission. PM Pohiva declared the press enemy of his government simply because they asked questions he didn’t like. Apply this logic in a classroom and students will be kicked out of class simply by asking teachers questions they don’t like. I, like many of you, would have probably run out of schools to attend.

However, recall to mind that Pohiva spent the last 30 years of his political career asking all the previous governments tough questions they didn’t like, and holding them to account. He even served a prison sentence in the mid 90’s for fighting for this belief. Now that he is in power, he wants to take this right away from the press, as well as rob society from its right to receive real information about the affairs of government that is ultimately accountable to the people. Consequently, Tonga’s media freedom was downgraded by the international watchdog community, Reporters Without Borders. This is an indication that we are heading in the wrong direction.

Let’s not forget that New Zealand’s media, 1 NEWS NOW, recently made international headlines with their coverage of Tonga’s escalating meth epidemic that is having a crippling effect on society. This exposure has led to more public awareness – resulting in positive steps in the right direction. This is why this issue is so critical. Society’s well-being is at stake when the media is not allowed to do its proper job.

Moreover, how can we expect the public to get real information if politicians are controlling what the public hears and sees? Are we now dependent on outside media to shine a light on what is really happening in our own backyard?

In closing, an independent media, free of political influence and control, is an integral part of ensuring democracy has a strong voice in society.

This important institution serves as a watch dog for freedom, transparency and accountability. It is also the first line of defense against government corruption and tyranny.

Take this source of light away from the people and as Jeff Bezos points out, “Democracy dies in the dark.”

Is this the future we want for the last remaining Kingdom in the Pacific?

 



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