Alliance: Bill Could Impede Freedom Of Speech

May 18, 2010

Saying that aspects of the Bill “as currently suggested could be restrictive and impede freedom of speech in the long run” and that “the Bill could be incredibly financially constraining to the media” the Bermuda Democratic Alliance has said they will come to a view later today how their MPs will be voting.

The proposed Media Council will have a slight majority of Government appointees, splitting 7 to 5. The costs of the Council are to be entirely borne by the media. It is not yet clear whether, and which, online entities will be included. To get a clear idea of what else the Act would entail, you can read the full media council bill here [12 page PDF]

The BDA’s statement, from Chairman Michael Fahy, follows below:

The Alliance is still actively considering the Media Council Bill and will come to a view on which way the Alliance MP’s will be voting today following the weekly caucus.

However there are particular areas of concern that certainly will need to be closely considered. In the first instance it would appear that the Media Council perhaps should be named the “Government Media Council” per the Premier’s sarcastic remarks, since the composition of the Media Council is not in fact under the control of the media in the Bill.

Whilst the Bill purports to be an attempt to allow the media to control the composition and the operation of the Media Council it does not seem to have been terribly successful as drafted. If the Council is to be self regulating as the Premier said, it is strange that the majority of members are appointed by the Governor after consultation with the Premier who in turn is to consult with the Opposition Leader.

I am also of the view that the money that would need to be spent to maintain an Executive Officer, staff and office as proposed by the Bill could be incredibly financially constraining to the media which is already in many instances feeling the strain of reduced advertising revenues. I query whether such expenses and costs will be disproportionate to the Bill’s aims. Financing will need to be closely considered as a result.

It is also strange indeed that the Bill specifically brings the Royal Gazette’s online content within the ambit of the Bill whilst other online Bermuda news organisations or other newspapers and magazines with online content are not specifically covered.

In addition, whilst the proposed Code of Practice heads seem to be modelled on the Code of Practice heads from the UK’s Press Complaints Commission, there are various heads that have been tailored for Bermuda which may not be constructive. It is hardly a surprise that “letters” ,”editorial” and ‘headlines” are listed. The concern here is that such code “heads” as currently suggested could be restrictive and impede freedom of speech in the long run.

Finally, there is something sinister in Government’s statement that it “shall review the operation of the Media Council after the Council’s establishment.” Whilst organisations similar to the envisaged Media Council are certainly in place in many democratic countries there are serious issues that need to be examined in this Bill in its current form.

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