'Akilisi Pohiva says he is not happy with how the TBC operates and a review will be carried out over the next month. Mr Pohiva, who has long been at loggerheads with the TBC management, says the broadcaster is an obstacle and a real constraint on the work of government.
"They have become an enemy of government. They claim the freedom of media should be allowed, should be the same with any other media in Tonga but they should understand there is a basic difference between a private media and also government media. Their main role, to me, is to facilitate the work of the government."
The chair of the local Media Council says the Prime Minister must explain his comments. Pesi Fonua, who also runs the Matangi Tonga news site, says Mr Pohiva seems confused.
"It's almost like referring that whatever government has said Tonga Broadcasting Commission is supposed to be supporting it and saying all the campaigning types of approach. He seems to have a misunderstanding of what public broadcasters are supposed to be doing."
The regional watchdog Pacific Freedom Forum says the Prime Minister's stance doesn't fit his history of democratic activism. Mr Pohiva is a long time leader of the democratic movement in Tonga and has run a local newspaper. PFF Chair Monica Miller says it is not the job of any news media to support the government of the day, but to represent the public and their interests. Ms Miller says the current government should remember its roots.
"'Akilisi Pohiva was this crusading newspaper editor speaking out for freedom of information and speaking out for the people's right to know, freedom of expression. So for him to say these things, doesn't sound like the 'Akilisi we know."
But Pesi Fonua says the statements are actually typical of Mr Pohiva's approach. Last month Mr Pohiva faced a vote of no-confidence in parliament which accused him, among other things, of trying to illegally dismiss civil servants who disagreed with him. Lord Fusitu'a is a Noble Representative who voted against the Prime Minister.
"One of the ground of the vote of no confidence was that particular staff within the Tonga Broadcasting Commission, were not just put in fear of their jobs by implication, they were actually called in and held to account for their coverage of this administration. So there have been tangible concrete overtures and threats on their employment."
The motion was defeated which appears to have emboldened the Prime Minister further. He says the result of the vote shows no one believed the claims. Lord Fusitu'a says even if Mr Pohiva's comments are just talk, it is concerning that the head of government would contemplate and verbalise shutting down a media organisation because he doesn't agree with what it is doing. He says shutting down the TBC would be in breach of the constitution. He also says there is a Tonga Broadcasting Act which would need to be revoked which would have far-reaching ramifications.
"The very basis of any Westminster democracy is the rule of law and once you chip away at freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, you are chipping away at the rule of law which ends up, in most cases, disregard to the rule of law. Which is extremely destructive to any democracy of any sort."
But 'Akilisi Pohiva says the TBC has also been running at a loss for years and suggests privatisation is the way forward.
"We can advertise whoever wants to do the work, to provide great services to the public, let them apply for it and we will find out who is most suitable, who is most appropriate to do the work."
However the PFF's Monica Miller says privatisation has traditionally negatively impacted the media due to a resulting lack of resources. TBC's management was not available for comment other than to say they had heard nothing official of the Prime Minister's plans.
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