Letter From Suva:
Laisa Taga

While Australia and New Zealand snuggle up to the non-democratic
government in the kingdom, they shun Commodore Voreqe "Frank"
Bainimarama and Fiji's interim government.

You really have to wonder about double standards. Fiji is picked on.
But there is silence about what is happening in Tonga. Both countries
are being ruled under emergency powers. Tonga because of the deadly
pro-democracy riot in November and Fiji since the military coup in

But while Australia and New Zealand snuggle up to the non-democratic
government in the kingdom, they shun Commodore Voreqe "Frank"
Bainimarama and Fiji's interim government.

Yet Bainimarama's interim government is arguably far more
representative of the people than Prime Minister Feleti Sevele's
royal-selected government across in Tonga.

And if some of the things happening in Tonga these days under
emergency rule happened in Fiji, there would be an international
outcry from the Howards, Clarks, Downers and Peters of this world.

When they happen in Tonga, there is silence, not just from Australia
and New Zealand but also sadly from people in the region who should be
protesting about this too.

Take the news media as one example. The news media are crucial in both
countries, no more so than at the moment.

This is because they are the vehicle through which all the ordinary
people in both countries get their rights to freedom of information
and expression.

Through this they know what is happening, and can express their views.

In Fiji, the news media—despite some hiccups and unfortunate
intimidation—remain fairly free.

Military commander and interim government prime minister Bainimarama
has publicly said he is committed to media freedom. He says he just
wants the media to be what the military regards as accurate and
responsible. This adds up to self censorship.

In Tonga, the royal regime's attitude to the media is more extreme.

Under the guise of their emergency powers and backed by the guns of
their soldiers, Tonga's royal government and the elite aligned with
them are doing what they have always wanted to do.

They are cracking down on the pro-democracy media and claiming they
are just following the law in doing this. Their law, of course.

Sangster Saulala, for one, would question the motives.

Saulala's Oceania Broadcasting Network, or OBN TV, has been kept off
the air after the riot.

Whatever might be claimed. there is one very obvious reason for this.

OBN was the only TV station fully covering the pro-democracy meetings
and growing tension which spilled over into the explosive events of

Now OBN is being blamed for this by apologists for the government.
However, if Sevele's government had taken more notice of the people's
views being expressed via OBN TV, there might not have been a riot.

It seems a classic case of shoot the messenger.

The kingdom's outnumbered pro-democracy MPs would also question what
is going on now.

They and their views appear to have been kept off the
government-controlled Tonga Broadcasting Commission's Radio and TV
Tonga. This is the kingdom's only TV station and main news media in
the absence of OBN TV.

Tavake Fusimalohi would be another with questions to ask.

The former long-time Tonga Broadcasting Commission general manager is
the best known name from the kingdom's news media. He is also easily
the kingdom's most experienced and qualified media person.

But in his role as editor of the pro-democracy newspaper Kele'a, he
has faced soldiers entering his office and stopping him working.

The Tonga Defence Service says its soldiers were just enforcing the
Sunday observance laws. Fusimalohi was quoted on Radio New Zealand
International as saying his newspaper was targeted for exposing
government corruption.

Now first Saulala and then Fusimalohi, the two main managers and
editors of the truly independent media in the kingdom, have been
charged with "sedition". If convicted, they both face jail terms.

Sadly, the near silence over Tonga is not restricted to Australia and
New Zealand.

The regional media body, the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA),
has also been strangely silent about Tonga. This is despite promoting
and defending freedom of expression and information supposedly being
one of the main reasons PINA exists.

You have to wonder. Did the Tongan authorities move against someone in
the media as well known as Fusimalohi after they saw the lack of
outside reaction to their moves against Saulala and OBN TV?

You really have to wonder about the double standards at play in all this.


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