Saturday, June 14, 2003

Freedom of the press, part IV

United Future has finally come to the party on the issue of freedom of the press in Tonga:

Democracy in Tonga must be on the South Pacific Forum agenda when it is held in Auckland in August, and New Zealand, Australia and the Commonwealth are duty-bound to speak out on the issue, United Future leader Peter Dunne said today.

"One of our closest neighbours is facing its most fundamental assault on human rights and free speech since its constitution came into being in 1885, and we cannot sit idly by as this happens.

"The legislation being proposed in Tonga is a travesty and a basic violation of the universal principles of human rights," he said

"This is in our backyard. It's one thing to fight tyranny in Iraq, but let's not let it get a foot hold here in the South Pacific."

While its good to see them condemning Tonga's plans, I'm not sure whether putting it on the SPF agenda is the right approach. Quite apart from the fact that that's not how the South Pacific Forum is supposed to work, given the degree to which our relations with the smaller countries are poisoned by suspicions of colonialism, that sort of formal criticism is likely to be counterproductive - and not just for our relationship with Tonga. Given the details of the Smythe report, it's clear that we need to do something, but I agree with Gordon McLauchlan that the government's softly softly approach is probably the right one.