Tonga rises four places in freedom rankings; Tu‘i‘onetoa must “ensure journalists enjoy full editorial independence”, RSF says.

'Oku taupotu 'i lalo heni ha fakamatala faka-Tonga

Tonga has risen four places in the 2021 Reporters Sans frontiers press freedom rankings.

Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa. Photo/Kalino Lātū (Kaniva Tonga)

Tonga now ranks 46th out of 180 countries, up from 50st place last year.

The kingdom’s lowest score was 66th in 2013.

Its highest was 33rd in 2016.

Last year Tonga dropped five places on the RSF list.

RSF said Tonga independent media outlets have increasingly assumed a watchdog role since the first democratic elections in 2010.

“Some journalists say they are forced to censor themselves because of the threat of being bankrupted”, it said.

“In an effort to regulate “harmful” online content, especially on social media, the government adopted new laws in 2015, one of which provides for the creation of an Internet regulatory agency with the power to block websites without reference to a judge”.

Late Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva has campaigned for greater media freedom and paid a personal price for standing up to the authorities.

However, what has been seen as his failure to grasp the importance of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission’s editorial independence, and two senior editors were sidelined under pressure from his government, was not reflected well on him.

RSF also said: “Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa, who became prime minister in October 2019, must put a stop to the pressure and meddling and ensure that journalists enjoy full editorial independence”.

RSF Pacific ranking 

Elsewhere in the Pacific, there have been setbacks while some wanted to rest on their laurels in this year’s RSF rankings.

Fiji dropped by two places from being at 52 last year to 55 this year. RSF said sedition charges poisoned the lives of three journalists with the Fiji Times, the leading daily, until they were finally acquitted in 2018.

“It was the price the newspaper paid for its independence, many observers thought.

“The newspaper’s distribution was banned in several parts of the archipelago at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 because – the government said – the press was not an essential service. The pro-government Fiji Sun was nonetheless distributed with complete normality in the same areas”.

Samoa retained its last year’s ranking number 21. RSF said despite the liveliness of media groups such as Talamua Media and the Samoa Observer group, Samoa was in the process of losing its status as a regional press freedom model.

“A law criminalising defamation was repealed in 2013, raising hopes that were dashed in December 2017, when parliament restored the law under pressure from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi so that he could attack journalists who dared to criticise members of his government. Since then, he has repeatedly tried to tell journalists how to do their job and what they can and cannot cover”.

Papua New Guinea dropped from 46 in 2020 to 47 this year with RSF saying the Prime Minister Peter O’Neil’s government had been involved in “many press freedom violations, including intimidation, direct threats, censorship, prosecutions and attempts to bribe journalists”.

ONGOONGO FAKATONGA

Kuo fakalaka ki mu’a ‘aki ha poini ‘e fā ‘e Tonga ‘i hono tu’unga fakamāmani lahi ‘o e tau’atāina ‘o e ongoongo’ fakatatau ‘eni ki he fakahokohoko ‘a e kautaha fakavaha’apule’anga ki he tau’atāina ‘a e mītia ‘oku ‘iloa ko e Reporters Sans frontiers press freedom ki he ta’u ni’ 2021. Na’a’ ne ‘i he tu’unga 50 he ta’u kuo ‘osi’ ka kuo’ ne ‘i he tu’unga 46 ‘eni he ta’u’ ni. Ko e tu’unga lelei taha ne a’usia ‘e Tonga ko e 2016 ‘a ia ne ne fika 33 ai. Ko e tu’unga ma’olalo taha ne ne a’usia ko e 2013 ‘a ia ne ne fika 66 ai. Pehē mei he kautaha’ ni kuo tau’atāina ange ‘a e ngaahi kautaha ongoongo tau’atāina ‘i Tonga’ ki honau fatongia’ talu e liliu fakatemokālati 2010. Ka na’e ‘i ai e ngaahi me’a ne fakakaukau’i ‘e he RSF hangē ko e lao ne fokotu’u he 2015 ke ne fakamafai’i e pule’anga’ ke ne poloka ha ngaahi uepisaiti ta’etomu’a ma’u ha mafai mei he fakamaau’anga’. Ko e ngaahi vātamaki ‘i he pule’anga ‘o ‘Akilisi Pōhiva’ mo e Letiō mo Televisone Tonga’ ‘o iku fakahiki lakanga ai ha ongo faiongoongo mā’olunga ne ‘ikai ke ‘ata lelei heni ‘a e pule’anga ko ia’ ki he RSF. Kuo tapou ai ‘a e kautaha’ ni ki he palēmia’ Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa kuopau ke ne fakapapau’i ‘oku tau’atāina kakato ‘a e kau faiongoongo mo e kau  ‘ētita’ ki hono pulusi ‘enau ngaahi ongonoogo’.

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