CONTENTIOUS COOKS BILL WOULD REGULATE MEDIA

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By John Woods

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Dec. 28) - A proponent of the contentious draft Cook Islands media legislation says it is "not set in concrete'" and it is not a priority with the Democratic government.

Media advisor Flo Buchanan yesterday responded to recent publicity about the Media Standards and Code of Practice Bill, which is still in draft form.

"The bill is not designed to infringe on media freedoms or anyone's freedom of expression. Rather it is to give the public an avenue of redress if they have a valid complaint against a media organization," Buchanan said. "It means the public have some measure of protection from being maligned and slandered by newspapers, television, radio or electronic media. Not everyone can afford the costs of defamation suits in court - which average around NZ$14,000 [US$9,826] with no reassurance that the complainant will win."

Buchanan is an advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Terepai Maoate, who is expected to be given the broadcasting portfolio held by Prime Minister Jim Marurai when there is a cabinet reshuffle in the New Year. It is understood the portfolio will be expanded from broadcasting to media.

"At present no one in cabinet has been given the media portfolio. This will not happen until mid to late January," she said. "When the media portfolio has been assigned, a roundtable meeting will be called with everyone in the media industry."

Buchanan said media industry representatives would be asked to bring with them their comments on the media bill for review by the government.

She said the local media industry would be asked to set up a media council similar to the New Zealand Press Council. "It is expected that the members of the media council will not have any conflicts of interest and be persons of integrity."

The media bill aims to introduce media standards, principles and ethics that all in the local media must observe. It also plans to regulate the media through licensing and provides for the creation of a media commission whose members are paid for their services, and who have the power to de-license media.

Buchanan said the bill is not a priority with the Democratic government. "Political reform is," she added.

Yesterday Cook Islands News published an editorial critical of the bill on its website, along with the bill itself and a critical review by an organization called Article 19. See Editorial for a more concerning this draft legislation.

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