Monday, 5 April 2010

Tonga’s leaders must step up on disclosure over Ashika report: PFF

Rarotonga, Cook Islands— Tonga’s Minister of Information and Communications Eseta Fusitua should consider a sincere apology to grieving families over her botched handling of the release of the official report into the Ashika Tragedy. 74 passengers, including all the women and children passengers, died when the ferry sank off the coast of Tongatapu on August 5, 2009.
According to news reports, Fusitua called a pre-Easter Press Conference to discuss the much awaited findings. Instead she used the time to talk about a set of ‘protocols’ which means Tongans won’t get the report via official channels until after Easter, late this week or early next. Ironically, as she was holding back her copy from Tongan journalists, they had already joined the rest of the world downloading the report from the internet.
“Any high-level Pacific leader holding the communications and information portfolio should have sought advice on how to best proceed with a report of this magnitude, and the overwhelming level of public interest in the results.
Sadly, we’ve just witnessed another avoidable sadness for the families of those who died. These people have just spent their first Easter without their loved ones, their lives still on hold despite the closure this report now offers them,”
says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea.
“This was a preventable maritime tragedy, and has repercussions for Tonga’s elected and appointed leadership. A process which leaves itself open to failure because everyone with an interest and an internet connection already has the report is hardly effective. It fosters a perception that government is acting in its own self-interest and delaying its own response and public discussion.”

PFF encourages Tonga’s leadership, in particular its Information Minister, to make the most of its leading journalists and independent media, and seek their advice for engaging and encouraging public debate and feedback to allow the nation to come to terms with the tragedy and families with their loss.
“Grieving families of those who lost their lives in the tragedy should have been the first to receive copies of the report, or at the very least, a summary of its findings and access to Tongan translation if needed,” says PFF co-chair Monica Miller.
“For them, the fact that the rest of the world is already debating the contents is a cruel joke, especially given the findings on culpability and responsibility for the tragedy.”
“Freedom of Information and timely access by robust, responsible and independent media to official reports is an important key to good governance and informed Pacific communities,” says Miller. “This report must go hand in hand with a decisive strategy from the government to place the findings quickly into the hands of those whose lives were turned upside down by what happened on that night of August 5 2009. They are the ones who most need to know."--ENDS

Links above:
Coverage of Info Minister’s Press conference on Ashika report, Matagi Tonga Online
Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the sinking of the MV Princess Ashika


PFF Chair
Susuve Laumaea
Sunday Chronicle Newspaper
Papua New Guinea

Mobile: 675-684 5168
Office: 675-321-7040

PFF Co-Chair
Monica Miller
KHJ Radio
American Samoa

Mob 684 258-4197
Office 684 633-7793

The Pacific Freedom Forum are a regional and global online network of Pacific media colleagues, with the specific intent of raising awareness and advocacy of the right of Pacific people to enjoy freedom of expression and be served by a free and independent media. We believe in the critical and basic link between these freedoms, and the vision of democratic and participatory governance pledged by our leaders in their endorsement of the Pacific Plan and other commitments to good governance. In support of the above, our key focus is monitoring threats to media freedom and bringing issues of concern to the attention of the wider regional and international community.

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