Political reform and the media in Tonga: an examination of cultural, political and media attitudes towards democratic reform in two Tongan newspapers
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The issue of political reform has been widely debated in Tonga, as calls for a modern democracy continue to challenge cultural modes of traditional leadership. Democratic changes to government remain problematic because of the intimate relationship shared between current political structures of power, and cultural demarcations of authority based on relational social networks in the kainga or Tongan kinship system. While social development and modernization have greatly increased awareness amongst the educated population about governance issues, large sections of the grassroots community have yet to acquire a thorough knowledge of government and political structures. Within this context, the local media body holds a pivotal role as both a cultural and political actor, in its dissemination of reform-related messages to the public. Using a culturally thick approach, this thesis examines messages about political reform communicated by two independent newspapers in Tonga – the Taimi ‘o Tonga and the Talaki - during the month of November, 2006. The timeframe represents a significant period in the nation’s struggle towards democracy, which saw the unprecedented riots of November 16, 2006. The thesis relates emergent themes in the newspaper texts to dominant cultural attitudes towards power as well as specific historical developments, in order to locate the media’s role within the Tongan social context. In facilitating a deeper understanding of the cultural dynamics at work behind political media discourse, the thesis concludes with some preliminary suggestions as to how local cultural frameworks can be incorporated into modern forms of democracy, good governance and media freedom.