By Lucy Mullinger: Pacific Media Centre
Publisher Kalafi Moala’s civil rights streak began early – as a high school student. His friend and broadcaster Sefita Hao’uli told at the weekend how Moala had already brushed against government authority in school.
Teachers at the state-run Tonga High School, where Moala was head prefect, would “cane us if we tried to speak Tongan,” said Hao’uli.
Speaking at the launching of Moala’s second book, In Search of the Friendly Islands, Hao’uli described the clothes they had to wear at school – “thick blazers, socks up to our knees and caps in sweltering tropical heat”.
The boys were confused about why they needed to dress this way. But they knew one thing: “The moment you were in uniform you couldn’t speak Tongan.”
“We all thought what a silly uniform and why do we have to speak English, a language we don't understand?”
The unfair high school treatment propelled both men towards a media career.
Hao’uli later launched the 531pi Pacific community radio in Auckland and Moala now runs the government newspaper Kalonikali – the Chronicle. Twenty years ago when he sought help from the state paper, Moala was told his newspaper Taimi ‘o Tonga would not last three months.
But the Taimi group has now taken over, marking a new era in government and press relations.
During the two decades he has owned the Taimi ‘o Tonga - a newspaper which according to Pacific Media Centre director Dr David Robie “aimed to bring alternative perspectives and voices into Tonga's public sphere” - government laws often curbed freedom of the press.
During October 1996, Moala was jailed for alleged contempt of Parliament and banned from his own country for more than four years, the newspaper was raided 12 times during a period of three years and he received death threats
His Auckland-based newspaper suffered because it practised “freedom of the press”.
Moala has won many different awards, including the Pacific Media Freedom Award for his fight for democratic reforms.
“I believe that without Taimi being in place, things wouldn't have changed as much as they have. Kalafi has made a real contribution to Tonga,” said Sefita Hao’uli.
“Any journalist worth his salt will learn how to write, spell and use proper syntax –
but without courage, the stories will be empty,” Hao’uli added.
“Kalafi is much more courageous than many of us.”
Moala’s earlier book, Island Kingdom Strikes, published in 2002, was written mainly about the scandals and injustices that were carried out by the government and royal authorities. In Search of the Friendly Islands deals with Tonga’s problems and finding solutions.
According to his publisher, Ana Currie, Pasifika Foundation Press, a Hawai’i- based group, was keen to publish this book with the help of AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre because of the “great work Kalafi has done for Tonga and the Pacific Islands”.
Currie met Moala back in 2003 and having lived in Hawai’i and travelled all over the Pacific, she appreciated “what Kalafi was fighting about”.
Innes Logan, publisher of Spasifik, the only mainstream media Pacific magazine in New Zealand, said: “There must be a new way we can confront the problems that we face”.
Moala said: “My dream and hope for Tonga is that we will have a nation with freedom and without anarchy”.
Picture: Kalafi Moala being interviewed by CBA's John Cameron and Shona Caughey at the book launching. Photo: Lucy Mullinger.
Lucy Mullinger is a student journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course, AUT University.
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