Tonga | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Tonga

Tonga

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

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

31

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

10

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

10

Tonga’s media environment remained relatively restricted in 2007 as a state of emergency imposed following prodemocracy rioting in the capital in late 2006 continued throughout the year. Freedom of the press is guaranteed under the constitution and generally respected in practice. However, in November, the government announced the formation of a new Department of Information to oversee all media reporting, though at year’s end it was unclear how this would be implemented. Government practices such as not publicly releasing draft budgets and bills or charging a fee to obtain court papers effectively restrict transparency and public involvement in policy decisions. In February, Tongan soldiers temporarily closed the offices of the private newspaper Kele’a without explanation, charging its editor Tavake Fusimalohi with sedition and criminal defamation. In April, Falisi Tupou, another of the paper’s senior editors, was arrested and charged with sedition. On December 21, the government sued the paper for alleged defamation over an unfavorable editorial, prompting criticism from local and international press freedom groups.

Political reporting has been invigorated by the presence of democracy advocates in parliament and broader public pressure for reform, but in June 2007, the Tongan Broadcasting Commission (TBC) was ordered to stop reporting on parliamentary proceedings after several cabinet members accused it of bias. Although the government said the ban was subsequently lifted, political coverage remained restricted throughout the year and journalists reported increased self-censorship.

In spite of the small size of the nation and population, the kingdom has a remarkably diverse range of media. Some of the newspapers, such as Taimi ‘o Tonga and Kele’a, are printed in New Zealand. The government publishes the Tonga Chronicle in English and its sister publication Kalonikali Tonga in Tongan, while the independent news website Matangi Tonga (originally a magazine) is now well established and one of the most reputable publications in the South Pacific. The TBC owns one AM and one FM station and the free-to-air Television Tonga station. Another privately owned station, the Oceania Broadcasting Network, which provided airtime to the Human Rights and Democracy Movement, was taken off the air following the November 2006 riots and remained out of commission throughout 2007. There is one other privately owned television station and three private radio stations. The government did not impose restrictions on the internet, though the medium was accessed by only 3 percent of the population in 2007 owing to infrastructure limitations.