The Nuku’alofa Supreme Court in August 30 ruled that the Kele’a Newspaper, its editor Mateni Tapueluelu and the publisher Laucala Pohiva Tapueluelu have disrespected the magistrate court.
The Tapueluelus did not appear in court and Justice Michael Scott adjourned their sentencing until this Thursday September 12.
The court ruling stemmed from an editorial published by the newspaper in June 24 titled: “ʻE li e tuʻutuʻuní ʻi he tasipini veve hisitoliá”, literally translated into English as – “The court order would be thrashed in the history’s rubbish bin”.
It referred to a court case in June this year where Magistrate Paula Tatafu ruled that the Kele’a Newspaper together with the Tapueluelus and a writer to the editor of the paper Solomone Palu have defamed the Prime Minister and six other cabinet ministers.
The magistrate ordered the defendants to pay damages of TOP$124,000 to the plaintiffs within 150 days effective from June 13.
However in June 24 Tapueluelu in the said editorial claimed the legal proceeding was a “fakamanavahē kalae” or a scare tactic referring to how they were at one stage repeatedly served with a number of different notice of proceedings including the notice of proceeding for the legal proceeeding with the Prime Minister and the six cabinet ministers.
He further referred to the many court cases where the Kele’a Newspaper was found guilty by the magistrate court but later on overturned by the Supreme Court.
The editor also wrote:
“Ki muʻa pea fakahoko ʻa e hopó ni naʻa ku ui ha fakataha mo ʻeku kau ngāue ʻo fakahā kiate kinautolu ko kimautolú te mau moʻua ʻi he hopo ko ʻení. Naʻa ku tala kiate kinautolu ko ha hopo ʻi he vahaʻa ʻo e Keleʻa mo e kau takí ʻi he fakamaauʻanga polisí kuopau pe ke moʻua e Keleʻa ia”
Translated into English as:
“Before this legal proceeding took place I called a meeting with my staff and informed them that “we must be found guilty”. I told them any legal proceedings between Keleʻa and the government leaders that brought before the magistrate court “Keleʻa must be found guilty”.”
This week on page 5 of the newspaper the editor regrettably says, “Kuo ma ‘oatu heni ha kole fakamolemole kiate kimoutolu kotoa ‘oku ha atu homou hingoa ‘i ‘olunga ‘i he to nounou mo e ma’uhala kuo ma fakahoko ‘o malava ke faka’uhinga’i ai ‘oku ne holoki ki lalo mo uesia ai e falala ‘a e kakai ‘i he fakamaau’anga polisi mo e ‘eiki sea ni kae pehe ki he fakamaau’anga kotoa”.
Translated into English as:
“We hereby apologize to all of you whose names have been mentioned above for the shortfall and misrepresentation we made that (they) could have been interpreted as they degraded and influenced the public’s view of the magistrate court, the magistrate and the judicial system as a whole.”
In June 2010 Tapueluelu published an article accusing the former Prime Minister Lord Feleti Sevele for his direct involvement in the purchasing of the MV Ashika that sank in Tonga in 2009 killing 74 passengers.
Lord Sevele sued the newspaper along with the editor and publisher demanding them to pay compensation as the article was a clear breach of Tonga’s Royal Commission of Inquiry’s Laws.
Editor Tapueluelu eventually retracted his claim, paid Sevele’s legal costs and published an apology in the Kele’a.
The Kele’a Newspaper was founded by ‘Akilisi Pohiva, the leader of Tonga’s Opposition Party in 1986.