Showing posts with label matangi tonga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label matangi tonga. Show all posts

Saturday, April 3, 2010

'Rust bucket' Ashika disaster findings rock Tonga

REPERCUSSIONS from Tonga's "rust bucket" disaster that killed 74 people - mainly women and children - at sea in the kingdom last August are finally rocking the royal and noble establishment to its very core. And while several layers of maritime and government authorities have been exposed, some senior expatriates look set for paying a heavy price for the tragedy.

Comical efforts by Information Minister 'Eseta Fusitu'a to effectively gag the local Tongan media over the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Princess Ashika ferry disaster last August 5 were in vain as Matangi Tonga reported on the here-is-the-report-but-you-can't-have-it farce. Barbara Dreaver, writing on her TVNZ blog, also took a potshot at the Tongan government for "hiding behind procedures". As well as extensive coverage, the online news portal Matangi Tonga published a leaked copy of the inquiry report. It was also published by Pacific Media Watch.

The leaked report has been highlighted by the Scotsman for describing Lord Ramsay Dalgety QC, secretary of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, which operated the government-owned ferry, as "unfit to hold such an important position", "lacking credibility" and accused of being "evasive when giving evidence".

The commission also said the former director of Scottish Opera was "dishonest and lacked integrity in his role".

Lord Dalgety, 64, was arrested, charged with perjury, and put under house arrest for 24 hours on his last day of giving evidence to the committee in February.

Tonga imposed a blackout on reporting the case. Two others had been arrested earlier.

Radio NZ International reports that the New Zealand businessman who formerly headed the Shipping Corp, John Jonesse, is one of three people charged with manslaughter by negligence over the sinking of the Ashika.

Court officials named the other accused as the former skipper of the Princess Ashika, Makahokovalu Tuputupu, and the acting director of Tonga’s marine division, Viliami Tuipulotu.

The Shipping Corp itself is also facing a charge of manslaughter.

According to the Scotsman's Shan Ross, the final report details "unimaginable and careless errors by people in positions of responsibility":
It also says the sinking was the result of systemic and individual failures and that the deaths were both "preventable and senseless".

[Lord Dalgety] has been strongly criticised in the report for failing to order an independent survey before the purchase of the ferry, which he admitted to the commission in January had been a "rust bucket".

The report criticised Lord Dalgety's lack of competence in admiralty law, in which he said he was a specialist. It described as "disturbing" the fact that he did not have an up-to-date copy of the Shipping Act and admitted he had not "checked it for years".

A claim by officials that the vessel was in good condition or well maintained "is not only patently absurd, but dishonest", the report said. It notes the ferry was "grossly overloaded" the day it sank.

Lord Dalgety, a former Conservative councillor on Edinburgh District Council, moved to Tonga in 1991.

In 2008, King George Tupou V made him a law lord and privy counsellor with the title Lord Dalgety of Sikotilani Tonga – Lord Dalgety of Scotland.

Lord Dalgety holds a number of powerful and well-paid posts in Tonga, including chairman of the electricity commission.

The royal commission said it considered evidence regarding civil responsibility, but that determining criminal responsibility was up to other authorities. Police have said their investigations are continuing.

Meanwhile, the Tongan king is under pressure to sack members of government amid allegations they were in part to blame for the failures that led to the tragedy.
Pacific Media Watch's Josephine Latu has filed some excellent reports on the leaked inquiry, including a comprehensive backgrounder, on Pacific Scoop. The full inquiry report is on the Pacific Media Watch database.

Pictured: Top: Tongan Information Minister 'Eseta Fusitu'a tells local media they can't have the Ashika inquiry report she is holding. Photo: Matangi Tonga. Above: The Princess Ashika at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Photo: Royal NZ Navy.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Media freedom and dealing with the Fiji regime's gag

THE EXPECTED fallout from PINA 2009 has been fast flowing since the two-yearly regional media circus. Many rifts were on show long before the conference began in Port Vila late last month - for example, the criticisms of PINA's recent lukewarm actions over regional media freedom and the founding of the successful upstart Pacific Freedom Forum by PINA dissidents; the hostility between the conference hosts, Media Asosiesen blong Vanuatu (MAV) and the country's main newspaper, Vanuatu Daily Post, and publisher Marc Neil-Jones; and the calls for PINA and Pacnews to be relocated outside of Fiji as a protest against the regime's media censorship. The election of MAV president Moses Stevens as PINA president only served to fuel the animosity. Stevens was elected ahead of talented Stanley Simpson of Fiji's Mai TV, an innovative graduate of the University of the South Pacific, to take the regional body forward for the next two years. He cited training for young journalists as a policy priority and also hinted at the possibility of Australian and NZ media groups being allowed to fully join PINA. Reflecting on the conference's results, Matangi Tonga editor Pesi Fonua wrote:
What appeared to be a sincere intention by the former PINA board to turn its biannual convention into a Pacific Media Summit under the theme "Breaking Barriers - Access to Information'" did not live up to expectations.

Despite the great effort to attract as many participants as possible to attend the Vanuatu PINA inaugural summit, their contributions did not see the light of day, because most participants were not permitted to attend the AGM, and so some serious observations made by working journalists and media people were not translated into the decision-making process.
Café Pacific's correspondents report that the meeting became quite tense when it was realised that two military censors - both women - had been invited and were present. The mood was becoming ugly, with some people questioning why the censors were there - how dare PINA invite them?

Cook Islands News editor John Woods (elected vice-president as the Cook Islands is hosting the next conference) was a particularly strong critic. He wanted the pair to be barred from the meeting. He said their presence would have a chilling effect on Fiji journalists and discourage them from speaking their minds. Woods described their presence there as "despicable". However, some journalists thought the whole issue rather over-dramatised and that it was important to get an insight into the thinking of the Fiji censors - one of them even a former journalist.

One leading regional journalism educator, Shalendra Singh, is head of journalism and media at the University of the South Pacific. He is a former news magazine editor and is committed to all sides of the story. He defended the women's right to speak as representatives of Fiji's Ministry of Information (a PINA member, although there was some doubt over whether the Minfo was actually paid up).

"Talk about shooting the messenger! The irony is staggering," Singh said later. He said the women should be allowed to speak. The conference should not do to the women what the regime administration in Fiji had done in gagging the media. Singh also mentioned that journalism was about balance and getting all sides of the story. It was an opportunity to put the regime representatives under the spotlight and question them. He said journalists should practise freedom of expression, not just preach it. Singh also described how Fiji was facing draconian censorship and there was a danger that people might become used to the status quo.

Some views changed then and other people present, such as Lisa Williams-Lahari, founding coordinator of the Pacific Freedom Forum, spoke in favour of the women speaking but only in a session about censorship under a military regime, not this one devoted to regional stories of media freedom under fire. She also strongly asked the censors during the Q and A whether they felt Minfo should withdraw as a PINA member without waiting for PINA expulsion. Another panellist, Fiji Times editor-in-chief Netani Rika, walked out in protest at the presence of the censors after his presentation. (He was awarded the region's media freedom prize).

Only one journalist - Dev Nadkarni, a former USP journalism coordinator - commenting on this contentious issue noted the fact that one of the regime's representatives, Lance Corporal Talei Tora, was in fact educated on the USP regional journalism programme and herself a former broadcaster. Tora was well-trained in rigorous journalism skills and freedom of speech. But now as a soldier - one of Fiji's pioneering women officer cadet recruits - she follows military orders. Her elder sister, Luisa Tora, is also an award-winning journalist and long a free speech advocate.

Corporal Tora raised issues of media bias in Fiji, of media paying journalists badly and exploiting them, and other shortcomings - but these issues were not discussed at all. Media in the Pacific does not like to discuss criticism that is leveled at it - as Café Pacific has noted often in the past. There is no critical self-scrutiny as there should be at such meetings - or as happens in many other countries that have challenging "media watch" style radio and television programmes, such as Media 7 in New Zealand. Pacific media too often just plays the victim.

Café Pacific understands that some mention of Pacific Media Centre director associate professor David Robie's past research on Fiji media at the time of the Speight coup was cited - the detailed findings were published in his 2004 USP book Mekim Nius: South Pacific media, politics and education. In Nadkarni's review of freedom of speech issues at the PINA convention, he wrote:
[Corporal Tora] said she was a civil servant and had a job to do and pointed to a number of cases of inaccurate reporting (for which several of the media outlets have since apologised).

The questions flew thick and fast: Would she and her colleague be reporting the proceedings to their military bosses? Would the emergency regulations apply to Fiji journalists now they were in a different country? Would they be liable to action? Tora stood her ground and answered questions with confidence, although she used her comparatively junior rank to express inability to comment on the more sensitive matters.
Freedom of speech cuts both ways. If media bleatings over the gagging of Fiji news organisations are to be taken seriously in global contexts, then a major effort needs to be taken by the region's journalists to be fully informed about the complexities of Fiji politics and to report with more insight and balance and to defend open dialogue. Ironically, two of the best reports to come out of Fiji in recent times have not been from Pacific media at all but by Australian-based investigative journalists Graham Davis and Mark Davis for their attempts to give the "other side of the story" of Bainimarama's claimed plan for genuine democracy shorn free of racism.

Pictured: Fiji Times editor Netani Rika speaking at the PINA convention - he was awarded the PINA media freedom award for his defence of free speech in Fiji; Moses Stevens. Photos: Fiji Times; MAV.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tongan poll vindicates pro-democracy group

Tonga's general election has vindicated the pro-democracy movement with a resounding success in spite of clumsy attempts by the authorities to gag political reporting and debate. As Pacific Radio News reports, pro-democracy candidates captured an overwhelming 70 percent of the vote in last Thursday's poll:
Of the five incumbent MPs, four have been re-elected, despite government moves to discredit them. Four are facing sedition charges over the 2006 riot in Nuku'alofa. Despite that, most were returned with increased majorities.
But first-time candidate Sangster Saulala narrowly missed out finishing fourth on Tongatapu but second in several rural polling stations. Saulala is also facing charges in relation to the 2006 riot.
Less than 50 percent of Tonga's registered voters turned out on the day.
Voting in Nuku'alofa was heavy but in the rural booths, voter turnout was reportedly lower.
'Akilisi Pohiva, former broadcaster and publisher of Kele'a, and long the leader of the Democracy Movement, topped the poll - as expected - with 11,290 votes. This was more than 4000 votes clear of the next highest polling candidate 'Isileli Pulu.
Another pro-democracy MP, Clive Edwards, a onetime notorious Police Minister, who jumped the political fence, had the biggest jump of any candidate, says RPN. He polled with thirteen hundred more votes than he did in the last election.
Pohiva doesn't want to see any slowing of change in Tonga - he would like debate continued next month and electoral reforms embedded before the coronation of King George Tupou V in August.
Pictured: Voting in the Tongan poll - Matangi Tonga

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tonga - another 'media Zimbabwe'?

Just when Tonga seemed to be making some headway in opening up to media freedoms and lively debate in the transition as an emerging democracy, a major blow has hit the state-run broadcaster with a tough restriction on political broadcasts. Would-be political journalists have had the rug pulled from under them just as the kingdom heads into an election. The Tonga Broadcasting Commission imposed a ban on reporters doing pre-recorded political interviews (without a vetting committee clearance) with the general manager ‘Elenoa ‘Amanaki claiming journalists didn't have the training or experience to do their job. What a scandalously demeaning statement about TBC's one journos. This is a reflection on the TBC rather than the journos. Journos gain experience by being on the job - and that means covering the elections. And what has been happening on the training front if journos are suddenly regarded as not up to the job. Why now? And why the "admission" on the eve of an election? PINA was a bit slow off the mark, in spite of many journos around the region clamouring online for a strong statement, but eventually PNG-based president Joseph Ealedona rapped the kingdom with a blast against censuring or privatising public broadcasters. Among many online critics have been the Tonga Review, which likens Tonga to Zimbabwe: "Tonga and Zimbabwe have something in common - restriction of freedom of speech. The latest government censorship on political campaigns for the upcoming election is similar to what media are experiencing in Zimbabwe. It is also similar to the way China and police states treat media. Freedom of the press is enshrined in our Constitution but it seems that the authorities are clinging on to the old adage that the 'state' knows what’s best for the media, especially state media, to communicate to the public.
"In an age where media freedom, albeit responsible media reporting, is critical for keeping governments honest, Tonga now seems to be heading the other way and dictating how its state broadcaster speaks to the people. This sets a dangerous precedent because the authorities can become brainwashed thinking that they know what is best for the people.
"The TBC is chaired by the Prime Minister and he has instructed officials to go through political programmes and edit any political rhetoric. This has caused controversy amongst the pro-government and pro-democracy movement. Officials have now become the authority over what can and cannot be said to the public.
"The problem is, you have some programmes that are pro-government such as the ones by Kalafi Moala and Viliami ‘Afeaki which is often critical of the Peoples Representatives and they are allowed and sponsored by government to be aired weekly. This is unfair and creates animosity against the state broadcaster."
Tonga Review
adds that the country's political leadership has "destroyed" the Fourth Estate. A bit sweeping - as the comparisons to totalitarian China. But definitely transparency and accountability have suffered a severe setback.

Pictured: PINA's Joseph Ealedona ... call for Tongan media to perform 'without fear or favour'.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tongan pro-democracy MPs still face sedition charges

First the good news: Charges against Tonga's five People's Representatives accused over last November's rioting in Nukualofa, Tonga, have been cut back. The bad news? The outspoken MPs are still the Tongan establishment's main scapegoats for the rioting. They're now still facing one charge of sedition each. Chief Justice Anthony Ford has announced the drop of some charges in the Supreme Court.
According to Matangi Tonga, pro-democracy advocates 'Akilisi Pohiva, 'Isileli Pulu, Clive Edwards, 'Uliti Uata and Lepolo Taunisila, first appeared in the Nuku'alofa Supreme Court on July 18 and were charged with one count of sedition and six counts of abetment to cause disruption resulting in the destruction of six different premises, including the Molisi Tonga Supermarket, Pacific Royale Hotel, Tungi Arcade, Shoreline Building, Fung Shing Supermarket and the Leiola Duty Free Shop in the November 16 riot.
Chief Justice Ford told the court that it had received notice two days ago that Crown Law intended to withdraw the previous indictments and file new indictments of sedition only against each accused. All five accused were all present in court, pleading not guilty. Pictured: Scoop photo of 'Akilisi Pohiva

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