SUVA, Fiji (August 22) – Here we go again. It's the Media Bill revisited. This latest attempt by the Government to gain control of the nation's media reflects the obsession of certain elements within it. The Broadcasting Licensing Bill contains much in the way of camouflage and lots of high-sounding catch phrases such as "ethical conduct" the "public interest" and so on but at the heart of this deeply flawed Bill is the fact that the relevant minister will, in effect, define those terms. The minister will decide what is ethical conduct. The minister will also decide what is the public interest. He or she will do this through a Broadcast Licencing Authority that will consist of five people - all appointed by the minister. Those same political appointees will act as a disciplinary committee to adjudicate on complaints from the public (including, of course, the politicians) and mete out punishment to broadcasters as they see fit.

This Bill deserves the same treatment as the last government attempt to control the media through the ill-fated Media Bill which was quietly dropped in the face of massive media and public resistance. For this latest attempt is no different except in that it refers only to the broadcast media. The Bill's proponents will no doubt argue that the minister is at arm's length from the authority and plays no part in its deliberations. But it doesn't survive scrutiny. Politicians, quite naturally, do things for political reasons and the Broadcast Licensing Authority will consist of political appointees who can be expected to do the Government's bidding. But just in case they don't, the minister will have the power to remove them. And this authority will, in effect, have power over TV and radio content, regulating public taste and ethics as well as the public interest. This is far too much power to give to a politician.

Of course there very probably is a case for regulation of the broadcast industry. Frequences need to be allocated in an organised manner, for example. But content should be left to the audience to decide through the simple device of free and fair competition. For a government to have control - however it might be disguised - over content of media be it broadcast, electronic or print is totally unacceptable in any democracy. This Bill has to be stopped..

August 22, 2006

FijiSUN: http://www.sun.com.fj/

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