Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Tonga’s media landscape has matured in recent years, with the constitutional kingdom’s democratic government strengthening press freedoms. The kingdom held elections under new rules in 2010, with the parliament, rather than the king, empowered to choose the prime minister. The election campaign reflected a more robust and open media climate than in the past, and a clearer commitment by the government to uphold Clause 7 of the constitution, which guarantees a free press.
Journalists found guilty of criminal libel and defamation are usually punished with fines. In 2011, cabinet minister Clive Edwards won a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper Kele‘a for a story published the day before the 2010 elections that accused him and other candidates of forming a “secret” political party backed by the government. Edwards claimed that the front-page story was false and played a key role in the loss of his seat in the parliament. The newspaper was fined 14,275 pa‘anga ($8,300). In October 2012, the prime minister and six cabinet members sued Kele‘a for an editorial asserting that some members of parliament were above the law. The case was pending at year’s end.
Tonga does not have a freedom of information (FOI) law, but in early 2012 the government stressed its commitment to a more open administration and held national consultations on future FOI legislation.
A longtime publishing foe of the monarchy, Kalafi Moala, now heads an independent newspaper, Taimi ‘o Tonga, and the Taimi Media Network website. He had also been contracted to revive the state-owned Tongan Chronicle as a weekly English-language newspaper beginning in 2009, but the paper ceased publication in 2011 after a struggle to keep it afloat, and its assets were returned to the government in March 2012. The government subsequently announced that it planned to restart a weekly English-language newspaper, which would bring the number of newspapers in the kingdom to five, along with Taimi, Talaki, Kele‘a, and Ita. The independent monthly magazine and news website Matangi Tonga is an important media provider and independent book publisher. The state-owned Tonga Broadcasting Commission owns one AM and two FM radio stations as well as the free-to-air station Television Tonga. There are three independent FM radio stations. The government does not restrict access to the internet, which was used by about 35 percent of the population during 2012.