Index 2024
45/ 180
Score : 70.11
Political indicator
Economic indicator
Legislative indicator
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Index 2023
44/ 180
Score : 71.29
Political indicator
Economic indicator
Legislative indicator
Social indicator
Security indicator

The Kingdom of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy. Since the first democratic elections in 2010, the independent media have progressively adapted to their watchdog role. However, some politicians do not hesitate to go after those who inconvenience. 

Media landscape

Given how scattered the islands in this Pacific archipelago are, print media are virtually non-existent. The void has been filled by the state-owned Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC), which operates Television Tonga and Radio Tonga broadcasting under the slogan “Call of the Friendly Islands”. As for online news media, the landscape is dominated by Matangi Tonga and the New Zealand-based Kaniva Tonga.

Political context

In this small archipelago of 100,000 inhabitants, the state of press freedom is directly dependent on changes in the political arena. The re-election of the party of the late former Prime Minister Samieula ‘Akilisi Pōhiva during the legislative elections of November 2017 was marked by mounting tensions with journalists, especially those of TBC where the top editors were sidelined under government pressure. Siaosi ‘Ofakivahafolau Sovaleni’s election as prime minister in December 2021 began a new phase for Tongan journalists, who are awaiting concrete commitments that would allow them to work with complete independence.

Legal framework

The constitution guarantees press freedom, but its enforcement has been erratic. The decade that followed the advent of democracy in 2010 was notable for a constant toughening of laws relating to the media. In 2015, the government created an internet regulatory agency that allows it to block sites without the approval of a judge. A 2020 law on electronic crimes gives three years in prison for cyberharassment, which is not clearly defined. More recently, the Ministry of Information and Communications quietly adopted eight draconian media regulations that, in essence, penalise the dissemination of so-called “sensitive” information and protect politicians.

Economic context

Tonga’s media must grapple with a highly volatile economic environment. Under the ever-present threat of financial collapse, some journalists censor themselves for fear of angering advertisers, including the government. The situation worsened in the early 2020s when, in addition to the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the archipelago’s media infrastructure was devastated by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano and the ensuing tsunami on 15 January 2022.

Sociocultural context

Over the past decade, Tonga has made progress on issues involving women’s rights and their role in and at the helm of the media. Yet some topics are still off limits for the media, such as the police’s use of torture, the abolition of the death penalty and the persistence of the practice of child marriage. 


Journalists are not worried about being in any physical danger when on the job, and they are relatively unaffected by the possibility of prosecution. Nevertheless, self-censorship continues beneath the surface in a tight national community. In a difficult economic environment, many journalists are primarily concerned with their financial survival. The Media Association of Tonga plays a key role in defending press freedom.