Senior journalist remains silent on PM’s charge she wrote e-mail attributed to Media Council

    Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s office says he suspects Radio Television Tonga’s manager for news programmes, Viola Ulakai, of acting as a mouthpiece for his political opponents.

    The Prime Minister’s comments came in a statement from his office in which he said the request for a press conference made by Mrs Ulakai on March 2 was not endorsed by the Tonga Media Council (TMC), but was made at her own request.

    He said she was later asked to remove the name of the Council and be responsible for her own actions.

    Mrs Ulakai has not denied the Prime Minister’s statement.

    When asked by Kaniva News about the issue she did not answer the question, but asked us to talk to other journalists at TMC. Kaniva News has not done this because our question was made to her.

    Mrs Ulakai said the Tonga Media Council would release a press release in response to the Prime Minister’s statement, but nothing had been received as this story was being written.

    The e-mail sent on March 2 was addressed to Mr Claude Tupou, the then Acting Chief Executive Office for Education and Training, and was copied to many addresses including officials at the Office of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, requesting for a press conference regarding issues related to the Ministry of Education and Training.

    “I am greatly concerned with actions of individual journalists that tend to create unnecessary tensions between the media industry and the Government,” the Prime Minister said.

    He said the Government was committed to a more accountable and transparent form of administration and would continue to discuss issues with the media.

    The Government was talking to the Tonga Media Council to establish clear lines of communication for all future request of this nature. This would ensure that Government, stakeholders and the public are not misled by the actions of anyone person.

    Last year the Prime Minister held three separate conferences with the media to elucidate on several national issues and to respond to questions raised by the media.

    “It is apparent that the media had misused these opportunities by tossing in unnecessary, personal and trifling questions,” Hon. Pohiva said.

    In a statement the Prime Minister’s Office said the Hon Prime Minister was not accountable to Mrs Viola Ulakai, as a person.

    “He suspects that the issues and questions raised by her are not of her making, but rather are those concocted and tailored by Government opponents who have recently retired from the Ministry; all for the purpose of discrediting and running down this Government,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

    Who wrote the other Media Council letter?

    Last month Kaniva News reported that a letter was circulating on social media asking whether it was true that Pohiva’s  son-in-law’s construction company in Hawai’i had been awarded the contract for building the Teufaiva Stadium for the South Pacific Games in 2019.

    The letter was claimed to be from Tonga’s Media Council, but the name of the letter’s writer was not shown on the part of the document uploaded to Facebook.

    The letter was addressed to the Acting CEO of the Ministry of Infrastructure, Pesalili Tuiano, asking him to hold a press conference with the Tongan media.

    Hon. Pohiva denied the report, as did his daughter, who said her husband did not own a construction company in Hawaiʻi.

    Pohiva and Tonga’s state media

    Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s relationship with Tonga’s state radio and television service has been a rocky one.

    He was famously thrown off the government radio station in his early days for broadcasting about democracy and has now accused senior station personnel of holding a grudge against him.

    When Pohiva became Tongaʻs Prime Minister most of his interviews and statements to the nation were made public through a privatetly-owned local radio station FM 87.5.

    This was followed by a piece in Pohiva’s Keleʻa newspaper explaining why Pohiva used the private radio instead of the state-sponsored Radio and Television Tonga. The article said it was because Pohiva knew the leaders of the Radio and Television Tonga still bore malice against him.

    Recently Radio and Television Tonga revealed that it had run into debt because it relied on a set number of sponsors. There have been suggestions that some of its television programmes could become pay-per-view to help them fund the network.

    During an interview with the Minister of Public Enterprise, Hon. Poasi Tei, the Minister told the interviewer that the Radio and Television Tonga should consider improving and creating news stories that were attractive to listeners. The minister said the state broadcasting commission could get more sponsors in that way.

    Critics of the official broadcaster have also claimed that FM 87.5 has become more popular than the national radio service and that large numbers of listeners and sponsors had moved away from Radio and Television Tonga because of its coverage of the democrats.

    One story that has circulated claims that during one general election, a democratic supporter from Hahake smashed his television set because he thought a Television Tonga programme was trying to discredit Pohiva and the democrats.

    However, not all of Radio and Television Tonga’s senior staff have remained hostile. Former manager of the Radio and Television Tonga, the Late Tavake Fusimalohi, was often accused by critics of being responsible for programmes that were  biased against Pohiva and the democrats.

    However, when Fusimalohi was pensioned off he became editor of Keleʻa. When critics asked why he shifted his political stance and supported Pohiva he said what he did was designed to please the leaders of the government and to keep his post with the radio and television. He said when he left the national organisation he was free to follow his own real political agenda.

    Kaniva News comment

    Radio and Television Tonga, which is sponsored by the Tongan government, has been accused by many members of the public of being biased in its news and stories against ‘Akilisi Pohiva and the Democrats.

    Some people have claimed that many of its news stories and interviews have been aimed at attacking Hon. Pohiva and his followers.

    They claim the government has not done enough to remove journalists who cannot report in a balanced way from the national media.

    The main points

    • Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s office says he suspects Radio Television Tonga’s manager for news programmes, Viola Ulakai of acting as a mouthpiece for his political opponents.
    • The Prime Minister’s comments came in a statement from his office in which he said he was disappointed to learn that the request for a press conference made by Mrs Ulakai on March 2 was not endorsed by the Council, but was made at her own request.
    • He said she was later asked to remove the name of the Council and be responsible for her own actions.
    • Mrs Ulakai has not denied the Prime Minister’s statement.

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