Tonga | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


In a victory for press freedom, on October 8 the Nuku'alofa Supreme Court issued a decision invalidating a 2003 amendment to the press clause of the constitution and struck down the restrictive 2003 media operators and newspaper acts. The court declared that the laws were incompatible with the general presumptions of free speech set forth in the constitution and ordered the government to cease enforcing them. The legislation required all publications to obtain government licenses and granted extremely wide latitude for officials to deny licenses, especially to publications that may be critical of the government. The independent newspaper Taimi o' Tonga, which was allowed to resume distribution on October 15 after being banned in November 2003, was among 173 plaintiffs in the court case against the laws. Several people had been arrested throughout the year for distribution or possession of illegal publications; those charges have since been dropped. Strong public opposition to the laws generated mass protest during their tenure, including the first public demonstrations in over a decade.

Tonga boasts an impressive array of media considering its small size. Seven private newspapers and magazines publish regularly, and there are two privately owned television stations and three private radio stations. The government runs a weekly newspaper, a television station, and AM and FM radio stations, all of which have been accused of self-censorship in favor of official viewpoints. The government has also made regular attempts to censor foreign publications' reporting of events in Tonga, but the new legal framework should allow Tongans access to uncensored print media. Residents may also access the Internet and foreign media via satellite television without restriction.