To mark World Press Freedom Day tomorrow Reporters Without Borders have named Tongan Kalafi Moala in its inaugural '100 Information Heroes' list.
Kalafi Moala a broadcaster and director of the Taimi Media Network is the one of two Pacific representatives on the list, and stands alongside Australia's Julian Assange and Glenn Greenwald, the journalist behind Edward Snowden's NSA leaks.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Kalafi Moala, director, Taimi Media Network & 100 Information Heroes' list
MOALA: It's a great honour indeed, but it really I think reflects a lot of the kind of things that has happened, not only in Tonga, but in the Southern Pacific, over the last several years in relations to the struggle for media freedom.
EWART: Now, I mentioned that you sit alongside Julian Assange, in particular, on this list, together obviously with 98 others. But do you share some of the aspirations of Julian Assange or do you feel that what he has done is very different from the way that you have gone about getting the message out over the years?
MOALA: Yeah, I think it's a little different, you've got to understand the background in which we will live in in a country like Tonga, we're a very small South Pacific Island country and our culture is very much not used to the kind of exposures that happens in media. We're raised in a culture where we basically do not make any criticism of authority, for example. And so over the years as independent media comes into the scene and starts challenging power with truth, but exposing kind of irregularities that are happening in our government and systems and so on. This is something new, this isn't nothing normal in this as in developed societies like in Australia or in New Zealand. So that kind of thing that's happened with us, it's part of our developing as a society to be part of the international community I guess in relation to the right of people to know how they're being governed, the right of people to know information in their own society, in their own county. So these are a little bit different from the kind of things that are happening in the Western world as we are simply are very much still a very developing society in relation to media freedom.
EWART: Things would appear to have changed significantly in Tonga in quite a short space of time, because it's not so very long ago, of course, 1996, that you and a number of colleagues were jailed for 30 days for publishing what were considered to be seditious, pro-democracy reports and yet here we are now, what less than 20 years later, and heading towards a second democratic election in Tonga. So what you did plainly was worth it?
MOALA: Yes, it's been remarkable, the kind of changes that has taken place in Tonga and it has been a major shift, it has taken us from a situation where criticism is not allowed, especially criticism of authority, where questions raised by media are usually suppressed to an environment right now in Tonga where there's very much relatively a freedom of information, freedom of media, and so yeah, your right, we're in a completely different situation now as it was in the 1990s.
EWART: But even since then in 2003, again in 2004 I understand, I mean you were banned from publishing, that there must have been times over the years when maybe you thought there was something better to do, that you needed to walk away from this, because it was proving to be so hard or have you always been determined that you would battle on regardless of the odds?
MOALA: Well, there was a resolve within my own heart and mind that if we hang in there, there's going to be changes that will take place, simply by learning from the history of many other nations in the world, where there has been major shift in terms of their attitude, in terms of their acceptance of the freedom of the media. And so there was never the idea, oh well, we'll just go somewhere else. There was always the idea in the vision that we're going to stay in Tonga, we're going to hang in there, and time will bring the changes. Because we believe that the Tongan people and the Tongan society themselves, they're very intelligent and sooner or later, they're going to come to grips with the issues that we were advocating and those issues were issues of freedom, were issues were we can freely share the kind of things that's happening and, of course, human rights was an area where it was developing very strongly in Tonga, the idea of democracy. All of these were kind of converging or coming together to be able to move our society into a more freer society.
EWART: As times have changed and you've continued your work to get the message out, sometimes as we've said against extreme odds. Are you finding now that perhaps the political message if you like, is easier to get out in Tonga than it once was, but maybe there are still cultural messages which you have to be very carefully about delivering?
MOALA: Yeah, it's easier, the political messages are easier to be able to deliver in Tonga. There are still cultural issues, where you have to walk very carefully on and whenever you are sharing or writing stories, it's never in a vacuum, it's always within the context of a culture that you are set in and so you have to be able to know how to navigate and how to manoeuvre, so that the messages don't change, but in the way you communicate, it has to be culturally relevant and acceptable. And so I think those are the issues that we're dealing with now.
The other issue that we're dealing with now, not only in Tonga, but in the southern Pacific, is that I think governments are beginning to be used to having to live with critical media and so government, they're still the power that we deal with and they're coming out with new strategies of how to be able to hold back media from the kind of responsibilities, the kind of reporting that they have. And so there's the introduction that's going on in the southern Pacific area, including Tonga, about self-regulations. In otherwords, government is putting out the message well, OK, you can be free, but at least regulate yourself, restrict yourself, otherwise we're going to restrict it and there are pressures right now in some of the governments to come up with legislations which requires media, to still be restricted, but the choice of restriction and regulation doesn't necessarily come from government, but it comes from the media themselves.