Tongan press freedom downgraded; journalists say they must have a voice on climate change

April – 2018 Round-up (You can read January round-up here)

Commonwealth Games

Tongan athletes were highly visible in the first week of the Commonwealth Games in Australia, regardless of which flag they are completing under.

Tongan born David Liti won gold in the weightlifting, competing for New Zealand.

Liti, whose family moved to New Zealand when he was six, set a Commonwealth Games record when he won the  gold medal in the 105kg+ division with a combined total of 403kg.

Dame Valerie Adams, who is proud of her Tongan heritage, defended her gold medal in the women’s shot put.

Elsewhere at the Games, members of Tonga’s own team competed steadily with one first, a number of placings and several losses.

In the lawn bowls Women’s Pairs Caroline Dubois and Malia Kioa faced off against Canada, Fiji and New Zealand.

Sateki Langi came 10th in the men’s 150kg weightlifting.

In the first heat of the women’s 50 metre backstroke Charissa Panuve placed fifth with a time of 36:37.

Finau Ohuafi came first in heat one of the men’s 50m freestyle with a time of 26:07.

In the men’s  110m Hurdles Talatala Pooi came eighth with a time of 15:02 in round pone of heat two.

In the men’s boxing 60kg Round of 16 Tuihalangingie Vea took on Jean John Colin of Mauritius.

Midwives

Three Tongan women have become Registered Midwives after completing the Bachelor of Health Science (Midwifery) degree at Auckland University of Technology. 

Valentina Tu’itavuki Kulitapa, Elani Mafi Latu’ila and Helen Schaaf Tameifuna will begin working in South Auckland as self employed lead maternity carer (LMC) midwives.

They will initially work in Counties Manukau Health care area which has the largest number of Pasifika women giving birth.

Hymns

An Australian man said he had solved the mystery of a set of initials that appear in the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga hymn book.

Nigel Statham, who worked as a translator for the church from 1970-82, said he had long  been intrigued  by the initials CPWB that appeared what he called “eight of the most lovely and popular hymns in the book.”

Statham said the mystery was solved when he found the name C.P. Walkden-Brown in the Tupou College 150th Anniversary book and realised he was the author of those hymns.

Isa Lei

It seems the argument over the origins of the Pacific’s most famous tune won’t go away, but in March the Fiji Times quoted a Fijian chief as saying the music did indeed come from Tonga.

However, it quoted Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba as saying he wrote Fijian words for the song.

Tongans believe the song Viola Losehina  was composed by the late Tongan chief Tu’ivakano Polutele. The chief and other sources claimed Polutele composed the song while he was one of the late Tungi Mailefihi’s singing group while the Prince Consort was governor of Vava’u in 1915.

The song was composed after the Prince asked each member of his group to compose a song for his wife-to-be, the late Queen Salote Tupou III. The Fiji Times reported that in 1962 the newspaper interviewed the Tongan Crown Prince and Premier, Prince Tungi who supported claims by Lord Tuivakano that the song originated in Tonga.

The paper said that when Prince Tungi’s father became engaged to Queen Salote, Tuivakano wrote a song of love in honour of the occasion.

It was some time after this that Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba heard the song sung by the Tongan visitors.

The Fiji Times quoted Prince Tungi saying in 1962: “The story as I have heard it, is that Ratu Tevita asked Inoke Sateki, then a forestry assistant, to write Fijian words to the same tune in honour of a young woman of rank who was living in Fiji.”

May

Naval base

In May, claims that China wanted to establish a naval base in Vanuatu revived memories of Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s warning that the Asian super-power might demand similar facilities in Tonga.

In 2013, when he was leader of the Opposition, Hon. Pohiva warned that China might demand Tonga let it open a naval base if the government tried to have its massive debt written off.

Vanuatu owes China a large amount of money and there have been allegations that government may hope to strike a deal with China on the naval base in return for forgiveness of debt; the same threat Hon. Pohiva warned of five years ago.

In April, the Reserve Bank said Tonga would start repaying the principal of its loan from China this year, but did not release any other details.

Tonga and China have had diplomatic relations since 1998.

Pacific rugby

In May we reported that Tongan rugby players could be playing alongside traditional rivals Samoa and Fiji if a proposal for a combined Pacific Islands team went ahead.

The proposed team would would compete in the  Super Rugby competition.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign affairs and Trade paid $80,000 for a feasibility study into the proposal.

Sceptics have argued that the Pacific could not suppport a combined team in a Super Rugby Franchise.

However, more than a million people live in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, more than New Zealand’s South Island, which supports two Super Rugby franchises.

Supporters of the idea of a combined Pacific team suggested that the number of supporters could reach  many millions if Papua New Guinea was included.

Environmental journalists

The secretariat of the newly launched Pacific Environment Journalists’ Network  will be based in Tonga.

The announcement was made in Nuku’alofa during the recent Pacific Islands News Association Pacific Media Summit.

Tonga-based media consultant and Former Fiji journalist and now Iliesa Tora was elected PEJN president.

The Pacific Islands will face the worst effects of global warming, with sea rises threatening many countries.

However, many journalists and academics are worried about the amount of local coverage of the issue.

They are also worried that in some countries the message about global warming and other environmental problems have still not reached ordinary people.

PINA election

Viola Ulaki of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission, who was suspended at the behest of the Prime Minister, has been elected as the new Pacific Islands News Association, representing television.

She was elected at the conclusion of PINA’s Fifth Pacific Media Summit in Tonga.

In 2016 Ulaki was suspended from her position as Radio and Television Tonga programmes manager by Minister of Public Enterprises, Poasi Tei.

Her suspension by the TBC board came after Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva alleged she had falsely claimed that a request for a press conference was made on behalf of the Tongan Media Council.

Hon. Pohiva said he suspected her of acting as a mouthpiece for his political opponents.

He was reported to have described the state broadcaster as “an enemy of government.”

Press freedom

Tonga dropped two places in this year’s international press freedom rankings from Reporters Sans frontiers.

It is now listed as 51st out of 180 countries.

This placed it ahead of the two other Pacific nations listed by the RSF: Papua New Guinea, which dropped two places to 53rd and Fiji, which has risen by 10 places to 57th.

The RSF report said the re-election of Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva’s party in November 2017 was accompanied by growing tension between the government and journalists.

Hon. Pohiva has had a tempestuous relationship with the kingdom’s media and his constant clashes with the Tongan Broadcasting Commission have particularly drawn attention

The RSF said some politicians have sued media outlets, exposing them to the risk of heavy damages awards. Some journalists reported they were forced to censor themselves because of the threat of being bankrupted.

In other international rankings, the US-based Freedom House listed the Tongan media as free in 2017. On a scale of one (most free) to 7 (least free) it ranked the kingdom  as 2/7 for political rights and civil liberties.

June

Petition

Public Service Association General Secretary Mele ‘Amanaki submitted a petition to the Speaker of Parliament alleging breaches of the constityion by seven Cabinet ministers.

A copy of the petition was also presented to the Acting Deputy Secretary, Suka ‘Otukolo, at the Palace Office.

In the wake of the submission the editor of Kele’a newpaper, Siaosi Pōhiva, attcked ‘Amanaki in print.

Siaosi Pōhiva is the eldest son of the Prime Minister who operates their family newspaper.

‘Amanaki was an unsuccessful candidate for the Tongatapu 3 electorate.

The petition accused seven ministers of breaching the constitution.

Clive Edwards

Kele’a was also in the news in June when the Supreme Court overturned a 2012 ruling by a magistrate’s court that found the newspaper had not defamed prominent lawyer and former government minister Clive Edwards.

The ruling by Lord Chief Justice Paulsen opened the way for Edwards to apply for a hearing regarding damages against the newspaper and the three defendants – one of whom is Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

Edwards brought an action in the Magistrate’s Court in 2012 for damages alleging that he had been defamed by the respondents in an article published in Kele’a in January that year.

 “The sting of the article was that Mr. Edwards was unfit to hold office as a Minister  because he sheltered criminals  and was a law breaker   himself,’ Mr Justice Paulsen said..

In his action Edwards named Kele’a’s publisher, Laucala Pohiva Tapueluelu, the newspaper’s editor, Matemita Tapueluielu, and the newspaper’s founder and author of the article, ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

King’s concern

A Parliamentary letter of response to concerns raised by the king pledged to review legislation to combat Tonga’s drug crisis.  

It said the House would make sure those involved in drug related crimes were punished with the toughest penalties available.

The concerns were raised in the king’s speech to mark the opening of Parliament.

The Parliamentarians also thanked His Majesty for his concerns over the tropical Cyclone Gita recovery process and his call to speed it up, the letter said.

Philanthropist

A Tongan philanthropist who gave away more than TP$1 million and was honoured by the World Health Organisation, has been praised for his humility and prudence.

Former Minister of Health Dr. Sione Tapa, who served the government of Tonga for about 41 years, died in May.

Tongan correspondent and former newspaper editor Faka’osi Maama, who often reported on Dr Tapa, described him as a person who lived a humble, prudent and financially restrained life style.

He said the former Minister had donated TP$160,000 to the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in memory of his first wife, Tangikina Tapa.

Dr Tapa donated more than TP$1 million to the Tonga Health Promotion Foundation in 2012 to set up a scholarship award for students who wanted to study health.

Airports

Tree branches growing  beside the runway at ‘Eua domestic airport caused Real Tonga to cancel flights.

The airline’s CEO, Tevita Palu, said he decided to cancel the services because he feared the trees could cause an accident to aircraft when they landed.

He said he had met with the Minister of Civil Aviation, Hon. Sēmisi Sika, and was told the Ministry would cut down the branches, but nothing had been done yet.

 ‘Eua is not the only airport where Real Tonga faces problems.

At Ha’apai airport, rolling stones on the runway have caused a lot of damage to the airlines’ aircraft over the past six years.

Palu said he had repeatedly met with the airport’s authorities and had been told they would  work on it, but until now nothing had been done.

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