The Public Media Alliance calls on the Tongan Prime Minister to respect the independence of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC) and its role in holding government to account.

The call comes as Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva attempts to launch a review into the role of TBC following claims that it is failing to facilitate the work of the state, suggesting that the broadcaster has become overly critical of his administration.

The Prime Minister has been quoted as saying: “They have become an enemy of government. They claim the freedom of media should be allowed, should be the same with any other media in Tonga but they should understand there is a basic difference between a private media and also government media. Their main role, to me, is to facilitate the work of the government.”

Despite Pohiva’s history of democratic activism, his grounds for review undermines the founding principles and ethos of TBC, in that it serves the people of Tonga and their interests, not the government or its political agenda.

The letter, written by PMA President and Radio New Zealand Chief Executive Paul Thompson, calls on the Prime Minister to carefully consider the role of public broadcasters. He writes that PSBs “must have the freedom to question and challenge the authority of the state if they are to fulfil their duty to create an informed and connected democratic society”.

The letter also urges the Tongan government to respect and enhance the editorial independence of TBC, which is held in high regard internationally and should remain a potent symbol of Tonga’s hard fought democracy.

The Public Media Alliance exists to promote and defend the pivotal role of public broadcasting in creating healthy and informed democracies and will continue to follow and report on the challenges faced by the Tongan Broadcasting Commission.

Header Image: Tonga Broadcasting Commission studios in Fasi Credits: RNZ Pacific/Koro Vaka’uta