29 Aug 2006

Criticism of Fiji's broadcasting licensing bill grows

6:03 am on 29 August 2006

A London-based group says the Fiji government's Broadcasting Licensing Bill gives too much power to a politically biased regulator to harass independent or critical broadcasters.

Fiji TV says the organisation, known as Article 19, campaigns for freedom of expression around the world.

According to the TV report, Article 19 claims it drafted the original bill in 2004 for the Fiji government.

But in a 15 page submission now, it says some very unfortunate changes were made to its draft on the appointment of members of the Broadcasting Licensing Authority and it is now calling for the reinstatement of the original provisions.

Article 19 says the balance between independence and regulatory power has been sacrificed to enable a politically biased regulator to abuse authority.

It says their overarching recommendation protecting the independence of the broadcast regulator should be reintroduced.

As well, it says the current Bill does not mention where the funding for the Broadcast Licensing Authority would come from, and it adds that independent funding has been recognised as fundamental to the overall independence of broadcast regulators.

The Bill provides for a fine of 300,000 US dollars cancellation of the licence of any radio or television company found to be in breach of conditions of its licence.

Meanwhile, the media watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders, says the bill would provide the government with a way to control the news media.

It says by replacing the existing regulatory body, the Fiji Media Council, by a new entity whose members would all be named by the information ministry, the government is trying to equip itself with a mechanism for controlling the media.

The press freedom organisation says the management of broadcast licences should not be entrusted to an offshoot of the government.

The group is calling for a revision of the bill to ensure that the media regulatory body is independent of the government.