A veteran local journalist has saluted a colleague in Tonga, Viola Ulakai who has been suspended by Tongan government for “asking hard questions”.
Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia told the Samoa Observer yesterday he was surprised with the actions of Tonga’s Prime Minister, Akilisi Pohiva to suspend Ulakai.
This was particularly with Pohiva previously being jailed with two other journalists for leaking information to the media.
With more than twenty years of experience in the media, Autagavaia backed Ulakai, saying she is merely doing her job.
“She’s doing her job and I salute her for putting the Prime Minister on the spot by asking hard questions,” said Autagavaia.
“I’m so surprised with the Prime Minister who is a former journalist, he should know better than anyone in the government with our journalism work when he became a politician.
“I’m in full support of her (Ulakai) and how she did her work but it’s also understandable that any person who works for government media they are being pressured politically and live under fear.”
A former employee of government owned 2AP and Televise Samoa, Autagavaia knows the reality of “government owned media”.
“I have experienced the pressure of working under the arm of government,” he recalled.
“There is that political pressure that tells you to stop this and that and don’t say this but say this instead.
“You have to expect that when you work for government…they have their own protocols, policies and job descriptions given to you of what to do and if it violates the freedom of the press you either take it or leave it.”
Autagavaia explained that in the work of the media a lot of politicians do not like being asked the hard questions on things that paints them in a bad image.
“But they must understand this is our role, they respond and we inform the public to judge whether they are telling the truth or not,” he said.
A former President of Journalists Association of Western Samoa (JAWS), Autagavaia revived a call for government to establish a Freedom of Information law.
He said in the past he had lobbied for government to establish F.O.I. for reasons that “if the politicians do not want to talk to us (press) then we and the public will have access to this information to explain to us what is happening.
“The public is entitled to this information and we all know why they took their time on it because they don’t want us to know.”
Pohiva had previously leaked information to the media in 1996 resulting in a contempt of Parliament and was jailed together with the two journalists who published the information.
Last week he issued an order to his Minister of Public Enterprises, Poasi Tei, to suspend veteran journalist Ulakai “until further investigation".
The Prime Minister has accused Ulakai of being too insistent with her questions, particularly with issues regarding reform that he as Minister of Education is bringing about in the Ministry of Education.
Ulakai has been a journalist with the Government Broadcasting for 26 years. She is now the head of news at Tonga’s largest news organisation.
In the past weeks, the veteran journalist has been trying unsuccessfully to set up a press conference between the media and the Prime Minister to answer questions regarding education.
A press release was issued last week by the Prime Minister’s Office accusing Ulakai of trying to set up the press conference as something endorsed by the Tonga Media Council, while it was allegedly only a personal arrangement of her own.
The Tonga Media Council chair, Lady Luseane Luani, responded in support of the Prime Minister’s Office, saying Ulakai was “not doing it for the Media Council”, a statement that has been widely regarded by other journalists as a betrayal of Ulakai.
(additional information was from Taimi ‘o Tonga)