Ulakai clashes with TBC boss in front of PM; Reporters Without Borders blasts restructure

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Dr Tu'i Uata (L) and Viola Koloamatangi Ulakai

Tonga Broadcasting Commission boss Dr Tu’i Uata clashed with his outgoing news manager Viola Ulakai in front of Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva.

Ulakai defiantly answered back Dr Uata and warned the Prime Minister to be aware that actions by people, who she regarded as Hon. Pōhiva’s advisors like Dr Uata, had tarnished his reputation as leader of the nation.

She said Dr Uata’s decision to restructure the TBC and move her out of the news room was wrong because she has a contract.

Ulakai interrupted Dr Uata while he was talking to the conference about TBC’s monthly financial loss of $46,000 in which he said that money belonged to taxpayers.

The clash was reported by Kakalu ‘o Tonga newspaper to have occurred during a press conference in Nuku’alofa with the Prime Minister and some of the government ministers about two weeks ago.

The Prime Minister corrected Ulakai and told her Dr Uata and people whom she had mentioned were not his advisors. His advisors were his ministers.

As Kaniva News reported earlier, Laumanu Petelō, the editor of TBC’s television and radio, and Ulakai, the news manager, have been moved into a new department under the Commission’s marketing and sales management.

The shake-up was made under the direction of Dr Uata who later said the move was made to save TBC from being closed down due to financial loss.

He said the TBC news was not popular and its unpopularity had caused sponsors to move to other stations.

Dr Uata and Ualakai have been contacted for comment.

Reporters Without Borders

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has criticised the decision by Dr Uata to move Ulakai and Petelō out of the news room.

In a statement released by RSF yesterday (October 31,) the international organisation described the move as “an apparent government move to seize control of the state media two weeks before a general election.”

Reporters Without Borders, which promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press, said it had joined all those in Tonga who were criticising the shake-up decision.

In its report, the RSF had hyperlinked a story written by Kaniva News editor and published by the Pacific Media Website as well as Kaniva Tonga News site under the heading ‘Journalists who had run-ins with PM out of newsroom in TBC restructure.’

It also hyperlinked another story from Kaniva News headlined ‘Viola Ulakai suspended from Radio and TV Tonga the day after PM questions her integrity. ‘

Another story RSF has embedded in its yesterday’s report, which was written and published by Kaniva was  ‘ “We are not your enemy,” senior TBC journalist tells Pohiva at press conference.’

RSF wrote: “The state media, [Hon. Pōhiva] noted, wanted to have the same freedom as all the other media in Tonga. “But,” he added, “they should understand there is a basic difference between a private media and government media. Their main role, to me, is to facilitate the work of the government.” 

The Kingdom of Tonga is ranked 49th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, after falling 12 places in the space of a year.

The main points

  • Tonga Broadcasting Commission Boss Dr Tu’i Uata clashed with his outgoing news manager Viola Ulakai in front of Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva.
  • Ulakai defiantly answered back Dr Uata and warned the Prime Minister to be aware that actions by people, who she regarded as Hon. Pōhiva’s advisors like Dr Uata, had tarnished his reputation as leader of the nation.
  • She said Dr Uata’s decision to restructure the TBC and move her out of the news room was wrong because she has a contract.
  • The clash is reported to have occurred during a press conference in Nuku’alofa with the Prime Minister and some of the government ministers about two weeks ago.

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