9 Apr 2008

Tonga broadcast boss cites lack of training for sidelining political reporters

3:20 pm on 9 April 2008

The general manager of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission, Elenoa Amanaki, says its journalists need more training before they can cover political stories objectively.

This week, the TBC announced that staff would no longer be involved in political stories in the lead up to the election later this month.

It says instead, such material would be pre-recorded and vetted by a committee of the management and Board.

Ms Amanaki says this committee will provide more balance and objectivity.

"Although they are not professional journalists, they are local people. They represent our customers who are listening. They will have better views of what the people are saying out there than the journalists themselves. I think our concern is that the programmes that we put through will not land us into legal entanglement later on."

Ms Amanaki says the chairman of the TBC Board, Prime Minister Dr Feleti Sevele, will not be involved in this vetting.

A New Zealand Cabinet Minister, Peter Dunne, who headed a New Zealand parliamentary select committee looking at the relationship with Tonga, says new restrictions on journalists at the state broadcaster are unfortunate.

Mr Dunne says the claims that the change will lead to greater accuracy, balance and right of reply, are wishful thinking.

I think that it just shows that Tonga has quite a way yet to go in the march to democracy and maybe the best thing that countries such as New Zealand and other neighbours can assist with at this point is in helping Tonga develop good governance arrangements. I think that the Commonwealth I know was involved a few years ago in programmes of that type but clearly we have a way to go yet.