Monday, 13 December 2010

Tonga government and media must support complaints process, says PFF

PFF, Rarotonga, Cook Islands--Regional media monitoring network the Pacific Freedom Forum says an open and transparent media complaints process for Tonga could have helped to keep 12 Tongans working, and controversial Tongan talkback-FM station ONE-FM88.1 on-air.

The FM station was shut down on December 4, a day after the owner of its broadcasting license cut short the agreed timeframe for its return and wanted it back, citing complaints against program content as one of the reasons for his decision. The operating company for FM ONE,Broadcom Ltd, was set up by Maka and Katalaina Tohi, both former employees of the state owned national broadcaster. The Tohi's and Broadcom have been waiting on the outcome of their application for a license to Tonga's government since last year, and had been broadcasting using a license owned by Taimi Media Group's Kalafi Moala.

Moala rejects any notion that government pressure made him decide to take back his license from Broadcom before the agreed end date of January 2011. In new developments, Broadcom's application for another available FM frequency in Tonga is undergoing more delays by the outgoing government.

"Until a complaint over material is seriously looked into by a tribunal representing the public interest, the current situation is confusing. The complaints never seem to move beyond being serious allegations against media operators whose bread and butter is information," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea.

"Without putting a complaint or the information that started it all under investigation, there is nothing there to help Tongans, let alone Tongan journalists, understand the rights and responsibilties of the media," he says.

"It can only benefit all of us if allegations and complaints go through a process which gives a fair and objective space for the complainant and media owner to present their points of view. The ruling of a tribunal provides a more democratic way past the often emotional and other side-issues around the complaint itself, and can help all of us to more clearly see and understand the nature of media's roles and responsibilities. It's a win-win situation."

"We are witnessing a new Tonga being born -- similarly, a stronger democracy needs to be served by a stronger media. It's timely that the winds of change sweeping through Tonga are also now indicating the need for a contestable media complaints process which can help all Tongans understand the nature of media freedom and responsibilitiy," says Laumaea.

"It is with sadness and dismay that we learn of the further delay by Tonga's current government on Broadcom's application for the FM 88.5 frequency," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller of American Samoa. "The application, coming in the wake of the FM 88.1 licensee wanting his license back, would have given 12 Tongan media workers--some of them leading journalists with decades of experience, the chance to keep Tonga's people informed at a critical time in their history."

"We can only urge the government of Tonga to enforce a timely and transparent process on license applications from all media operators who like Broadcom are awaiting decisions. It should not take more than 12 months, or a change of government, for a decision to be made."

"As we enter the festive season, our thoughts are with our 12 colleagues and their families, forced off air by allegations and complaints which never stood the test of a complaints process. What an irony for a media organisation which has contributed much to public debate and discussion leading to the historical November 25th elections, that it should now be shut down and its listeners shut out, without any fair hearing on the complaints made."-ENDS

Tonga Broadcom: Katalaina Tohi, 676-7714826

PFF interim Chair Susuve Laumaea | Sunday Chronicle Newspaper | Papua New Guinea Mobile: 675-684 5168 | Office: 675-321-7040 | Email: PFF interim co-Chair Monica Miller | KHJ Radio | American Samoa Mob 684 258-4197 | Office 684 633-7793 | Email:

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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