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Freedom of the Press 2011 - Tonga

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 17 October 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2011 - Tonga, 17 October 2011, available at: [accessed 24 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 11
Political Environment: 10
Economic Environment: 10
Total Score: 31

Freedom of the press is guaranteed under the constitution. Journalists found guilty of libel and defamation are usually punished with fines. Former prime minister Fred Sevele filed a defamation case against the prodemocracy newspaper Kele'a in a New Zealand court over articles written in April and May 2010 regarding a commission of inquiry into the deadly sinking of the ferry Princess Ashika. In July the kingdom's information and communications minister announced tentative plans for the government to regulate the print media as it already did the broadcast media, but the proposal did not materialize by year's end.

Tonga held elections under new rules in November 2010, with the parliament rather than the king empowered to choose the prime minister. The election campaign reflected a more robust and open news media climate than in the past. Samuela 'Akilisi Pohiva of the Democratic Party, a former broadcaster and publisher of the Kele'a newspaper, was discussed as a possible prime minister. However, although the Democratic Party emerged as the single strongest political force, independent lawmakers joined with the legislature's noble members to ensure that the more conservative Siale 'Ataongo Kaho (Lord Tu'ivakano) won the premiership. Most political figures, including Pohiva, pledged to adopt a more open and more cooperative approach to the news media. However, despite increased media access to cover the elections, restrictions on coverage of parliamentary debates remained in place in 2010. Media outlets also exercised self-censorship when writing articles about prominent individuals. There were no reports of attacks or cases of physical harassment against journalists during the year.

The kingdom's media landscape has matured and strengthened in recent years. A longtime publishing foe of the monarchy, Kalafi Moala, returned from exile to head his independent newspaper Taimi 'o Tonga in Nuku'alofa and take on a government contract to revive the Tongan Chronicle as a weekly English-language newspaper. Moala also had a television interest and established the Taimi Media Network website. The independent monthly magazine and news website Matangi Tonga is also an important media provider and book publisher. The state-owned Tongan Broadcasting Corporation owns one AM and two FM radio stations and the free-to-air station Television Tonga. The government does not restrict access to the internet, which was used by 12 percent of the population during 2010.

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