Tonga's govt-media relationship hits an all time low
The struggles the media in Tonga is experiencing as it tries to prise information out of the Pohiva government.
The relationship between the Tonga government and the local media is at an all time low.
That is the view of a long time veteran of journalism in Tonga, Kalafi Moala, and comes after countless fruitless attempts to extract information from the prime minister, Akilisi Pohiva, and his colleagues.
Mr Moala, who is the editor of the Taimi o Tonga newspaper and a former associate of the government elected less than 18 months ago, told Don Wiseman just how strained the relationship has become.
KALAFI MOALA: There is a deliberate attempt by the government to control information in other words the information that comes out from them is just the information they want to be out.
DON WISEMAN: Yes and that is no different from any government I guess.
KM: Right but you come enquiring about information that is supposed to be public information and then there is a major clamp down. And I think the reason why this is a disappointment is because this is the very government that from the very beginning said they were going to be a government of good governance and part of good governance was going to be transparency and this was going to be the government that will fight for freedom of the press and freedom of speech and it has just become the opposite.
DW: Why do you think that has happened?
KM: Well I think you have to go back a few years and think about when there was so much talk at that time, of course the current prime minister was in the opposition and there was a lot of push for freedom of press, freedom of speech. I am now understanding that what they meant by freedom of speech then was that 'I have the freedom to speak my mind but you do not have the freedom to speak yours'. That is basically the attitude from within. In other words we are free to tell you what we think and we are free to publish it but if there is any opposition to that then you are not free to do that.
DW: This opposition towards the media even applies to state run media I hear?
KM: Yes the state run media here is of course the Tonga television and radio and a couple of their journalists have been the ones during press conferences that they have been asking difficult questions. And even when they interviewed the leadership here they seemed to be probing the things that they know that should be exposed that should be talked about. But when they do that there came about very strong opposition from government. So much so that one of the journalists was being investigated by the prime minister's office that there was talk of probably changing her job or kicking her out, simply because she was asking hard questions during interviews.
DW: That is quite a surprising thing from this government as we know it is not going to be a winning strategy is it? Do you think the government is starting to realise this isn't going to work for them?
KM: I think they are starting to realise that but as you know that we have about two and a half months before there is a vote of no confidence and they are starting the panic, they are starting to come out with their side or their view of things but unfortunately the whole media here as late as this past week asking for interviews being pushed around. The spin is so great from the prime minister's office. In my years of working here I have never seen a more confusing situation in terms of media and government and their relationship and the opposition that is coming out. In years past where I was very much a part of the very critical media the lines were very very clear cut. But with this government there is a lot going on that we don't even understand.
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