“Tongans in the Uniting Church and the wider community are expressing hurt and anger at the negative and culturally insensitive stereotyping of their young people in the ABC TV series Jonah from Tonga,” said Rev. Prof. Dutney.
“Notwithstanding the program makers’ assurances of benign intent, the depiction of the character Jonah is offensive to our Tongan brothers and sisters.”
“As members of the same body of Christ we share that pain that their nationality has been singled out for ridicule on the national broadcaster. Young Tongan leaders make an amazing contribution to our Church and our country. They deserve our pride not this kind of prejudice,” said Rev. Dutney.
The Chair of the Uniting Church’s Tongan National Conference Rev. Jason Kioa said the portrayal of Jonah sent the wrong message on so many levels.
“The image of a foul-mouthed, aggressive teenager is the absolute opposite of the young Tongans who play dynamic roles in our Church and in our community,” said Rev. Kioa.
“It saddens me that this crude caricature is how thousands of Australians will relate to our Tongan young people.”
“The fact that such a racially-based program can be conceived in the first place is symptomatic of a larger failure by the Australian media – a failure to reflect the reality of Australia’s multicultural society.”
“Where are the voices in the Australian media that tell of the successes of our young people and the challenges faced by the Tongan community?”
Tongan youth leaders in the Uniting Church have also voiced their concerns.
“This program devalues our Tongan culture,” said 20 year-old David Palu a young leader of Tongan National Conference’s Next Gen group.
“It breaks my heart to see someone disrespect my culture in this way. I don’t want my mother or my uncle to see this show on television.”
The Uniting Church is approaching the ABC and the producers of Jonah from Tonga to hear directly from members of the Tongan National Conference in Sydney over the June long weekend.
“The ABC needs to listen to the voices of the Church members who are offended. As a Church called by God to promote reconciliation, we will ensure our members’ voices are heard.” said Rev. Prof Dutney and Rev. Kioa.
“By introducing our positive role models of Tongan youth, hopefully we can help them see more clearly the real contribution of Tongans living in Australia.”