First Look @ The Media Council Act 2010

Okay, I’ve given the Media Council Act 2010 a first look over. I still want to compare it with similar legislation in the UK, the Caribbean, South Africa, Singapore and New Zealand, but I figured I would give my first thoughts on it.

Do we need such legislation?

The first question that needs to be answered is whether we actually need this legislation. I don’t think there is any question that historically the established media, namely the Royal Gazette, has been hostile to the PLP (and by extension organised labour) and has had a racial bias. Things have certainly improved since those days, but there are certainly more improvements that could be done and these should be encouraged. Whether or not this legislation will facilitate this is another question.

It is true that similar legislation exists in other countries, both in liberal democracies like the UK, New Zealand and South Africa, psuedo-democracies like Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan, and in full on authoritarian states like North Korea, Iran and the People’s Republic of China. It is not necessarily a bad thing or a good thing, and, as with all things, the devil is in the detail and context is everything.

Personally I don’t have a problem with the idea and think it can be progressive, but it is something that should be approached with great care, bearing in mind the historical and increasing mistrust between different sectors of our society.

Membership of the Council

One of the biggest concerns that have been raised is the membership composition of the proposed council. Section 5 of the legislation covers this and states that:

(1) The Council shall be comprised of twelve members as follows –
(a) five members elected by representatives of the local media;
(b) six members appointed by the Governor after consultation with the Premier, who shall first have consulted with the Opposition Leader; and;
(c) One other member, who shall be the Chairman of the Council, appointed by the Governor in his discretion.

(2) Members appointed under subsection (1)(b) and (c) shall be persons who are independent of the media.

(3) The election or appointment of a member is for a period of three years and a member may be elected or appointed for susbsequent periods of three years but not for any two consecutive periods of three years.

(4) Vacancies in membership of the Council shall be filled in the same manner as set out in subsection (1) and shall be for the remainder of the period for which the original member was elected or appointed.

(5) The members of the Council shall be elected or appointed within three months after this Act comes into operation.

Some people have raised concern that this system provides the Government (regardless of which Party is in power) a majority vote and thus undermines the concept of free speech (theoretically) by giving the Government of the day veto powers over the various media. I can certainly see how that is the case, especially with the distrust that pervades our society, even if this mechanism of appointment is similar to many other government boards.

What I would like to see is for every major party (that is, a party that has at least 10% of the popular vote on the basis of the last election at the time of forming the Council) to elect, from its day-to-day governing body (so in this case the Central Committee of the PLP and its equivalent from the UBP and the BDA) a member each to the council (and this member not necessarily being an MP or Senator). So in this case we have three members right away.

In addition to this I think that the labour unions should have a representative, at least one each from the BIU and the BPSU/TUC (last I checked the BIU was not a member of the Bermuda TUC). I would also like to see the Womens Resource Centre and CURB (Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda) each elect a representative to the Council. An argument could also be raised that Amnesty International Bermuda should be given a seat at the table, or, alternatively, that a representative from the Human Rights Commission should have a seat. I think it would also make sense for a representative from the Bermuda Bar and the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce should both have a representative as well.

So, the above would provide the Council with ten members. Add to that the five members elected by the local media, as set out in the Act, and we have a total of fifteen members that I think are representative of the stakeholders in this issue. It also provides for a wide array of different viewpoints and sure ensure a more balanced position on matters of relevance, without being open to accusations of government interference with free speech. It is also more democratic, to an extent, especially as it relates to the political parties and labour unions, and in general the representatives can be held accountable by their respective institutions.

Also, by having an uneven number, this formula prevents deadlock, and allows for a slightly larger number of opinions to be represented by a quorum of 60%, being a minimum of ten members.

Financial Provisions & Miscellaneous

It is not clear from Section 9, Part (2) whether the Council will be funded entirely by contributions from the local media, or only partially funded. I think it is unfair for the local media to entirely fund the Council and would argue that a better system would see the local media funding, at a minimum, 50% of it, with the remainder being made up by Government. The Government funding however should be similar to that of the Ombudsman’s office, funded but independent of the Government, thus reducing the potential for interference.

My only other concern relates to Section 15, Part (3c/d) which states that the Council may ‘order a respondent in the print/broadcast media to refrain from printing/broadcasting anything (or any news, or comment on news, that is the subject of the complaint.’ I understand the reasoning behind this, but it strikes me as having the potential to stymie the publication of certain news stories. I suppose this would depend on the legal wordings of the Code of Practice in general.

I’ll try and read over relevant legislation from other countries, at least other Commonwealth liberal democracies, and see if there is anything else I should add. VexedBermoothes has some thoughts on the legislation as well (plus a link to a pdf copy of the legislation), as does Politics and Wishful Thinking. The BIAW forum also has a thread on the topic.

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27 thoughts on “First Look @ The Media Council Act 2010

  1. Couple of points:

    1. CURB is being disbanded and effectively absorbed into the HRC.

    2. Like your thinking on composition, although a body of 15 seems too big and unwieldy.

  2. Hey Mike – It’s actually CURE (the Committee for Unity and Racial Equality) which is being merged with the HRC. CURB is an independent organisation, an NGO.

    I agree 15 may be too much; I was originally going to say 13 (three media representatives), but for superstitious reasons I bumped it up to 15, lol.

  3. Don’t you think that by including CURB, Amnesty International (Or the HRC) and the Unions on the council we begin to run the risk of creating a council that decides what is reported rather than one that ensures adherence to standards of journalistic integrity? I see no reason why any of those organizations should have the right to sit on the council.

    I would think that self regulation is the ideal solution but, we’ve recently seen the dangers of self-regulation in the financial sector so I can understand why we wouldn’t wish to go down that route. As a compromise I would support the general model proposed by the Bill but, with a slight alteration to give the Media a majority unless the Governor’s appointee (who I trust would be reasonably independent) voted against them. What exactly are the benefits as you see them of your model?

  4. My thinking is that by having these groups on board they will be able to consider issues relating to sexism, racism, political bias and pro-business (or vice versa) reporting, all issues that the Bermudian media has historically been accused of. Having all of these groups on board should ensure that all of these factors are considered and so reduce the potential for journalistic tunnel-vision.

    The complaints about the media extend to all these social issues, issues that the journalists themselves are slightly aware of, but not fully aware of when they may write articles.

  5. While I agree with the concept of a media council (as modelled in fellow western democracies) the first draft of BDA’s proposed council is seriously flawed. In no sort of circumstances in any jurisdiction (esp. ones that claim democratic values) should this important council be saturated with inevitably biased politicians who wield their votes in unison to ensure that potentially damaging/embarassing (but true) stories are never published.

    This is a serious affront to our democratic values and in particular our inalienable freedom of speech. This first draft appears to be another vindictive piece of legislation put forward by a man with a “hidden agenda.”

    Just of curiousity JS, does this piece of “legislation” encompass HOTT 107.5 as well as the Worker’s Voice? Or is it simply a document aimed at silencing any and all government detractors? I mean as it does mention the prohibition of hate speech then these two entities must be captured by the legislation as well.

  6. But isn’t that what the HRC is for?

    If we’re looking to police the media for any infraction, then isn’t it just a form of censorship?

    We have, in the body of the HRC, a means to deal with sexism, racism and political bias. Isn’t the media covered by it?

    This legislation scares the crap out of me. Just the thought that someone out there thinks that a group that’s predominantly Government appointed will have oversight over the media is a good idea gives me the heebie-jeebies.

    As has been said many, many times before, there ARE controls over the media. They AREN’T allowed to do certain things and there are ways to punish them if they do… unless you’re an unelected MP saying offensive things on a radio station owned by a politician, run by a politician… or if you make propaganda broadcasts, refusing to give the other side equal time in accordance to the law, claiming that the law is unjust and promising to change it if your party gets into power… only to ignore that that promise was ever said… on a radio station owned and run by ruling party politicians…
    In that case, you’re free and clear to do whatever you want.

  7. I know of a few local blogs that are free to do what they want, say what they want. Comments made by the owners are not refuted because allegations and defamatory remarks made about them cannot be challenged. Shame really.

    Irony.

    Yeah I guess this whole Media thing is reallyan avenue to shut people up. I’m sure Bill Zuill can handle it but it is directed at the socalled biased news but in reality the leaks and nauntiness is becoming a gusher like the situation in the Golf of Maxhico.

    Gotta run……

    NB – I have moderated this post slightly – JS

  8. Hey JMAD, the legislation explicitly describes the Workers Voice as one of the print media, and Hott as one of the broadcast media – see the schedule at the end.

    @ UE – agreed there are alternate ways to ensure fairness in the media, such as appealing to the HRC. My thinking was just that these organisations (the WRC and CURB) would be able to help provide a different point of view for the media, and from a non-political source at that.

  9. My biggest problem is with local blogs and forums and not the actual media.

    It’s hard to refute lies etc and defamation except in a daily and you don’t want to burden them with antics as they should not be an avenue.

    Life moves on.

  10. Nobody is calling for a Media Council, only the Brownites. I don’t see why the Royal Gazette should even participate in this pay-back fantasy of Ewart’s. It’s really getting tired. The plp Gov’t pulled its advertising from the RG papers some time ago, in a politically-motivated attempt to force the Papers to close. In fact, the MON did close. So in reality, the Gazette does not owe this Gov’t any favours. And we do not need or want a Media Suppression Council in Bda. It will never happen.

  11. The only problem with it I have is the involvement of government. I see no problem with one government representative on behalf of the ministry of telecommunications, the rest should be determined by the media. Especially if it is to be funded by the media!

  12. “NB I have moderated this post slightly-JS”

    I don’t blame you. At least you give people a voice not like other blogs that don’t alloow comments or are sensored et al.

    As far as I am concerned your nothing but a complete waste of time Bermudian (slimey-papers please) .

    Why do they kill the messenger?

    Irony. I don’t like many things but I must admit Johnny you do deswrve a job in Government as a npaid consultant.

    People laugh at you I know but your 16 oz still makes a pound.

    Ok …gotta run…………………

    As for Bill Zuill…he still owes me ‘shrupence’ for the story I broke on who really built the ‘Deliverance’… some guys just have some strangeways……………….

    It’s ok Bill….I won’t suppress your comments. Come back at me yah ole ….gotta love those buys frum smiffs………

  13. Good catch Letariatpro.

    Good thing I don’t fall into that catagory. It usually ends in incarceration et al.

    Gotta run………………Just been appointed to the new Media Councel

  14. Well, I guess you need to read other local blogs where they scream and shout about people blocking their way and want to blame it on Bermudian attitudes.

    In relation, define Bermudian. The complainer, the blocker or just the same old rehtoric.

    Oh well. Media, the irony.

  15. Social media is a term used to describe the type of “media” that is based on conversation and interaction between people online.

    Where media means digital words, sounds and pictures which are typically shared via the internet and the value can be cultrual, societal and even finacial.

  16. well as a former victim of political persecution i want o warn the enemy i am on american web pages lobbying to close down Bermudas corrupt tax structure.

  17. The Legislation has not been finalised. When it is it may have something to do with it.

    We cannot pre judge. When it becomes Law then the chips will fall and be addressed as they are now.

  18. Due to the internet, the proposed Median Council legislation is an anachronism. The very future of newspapers, radio and TV stations, which this legislation is trying to control, is already in doubt. Mass communication with Bermuda’s citizens is no longer centered in the hands of a few. Communication can no longer be controlled, unless you are going to control internet communication and that would probably get opposition from most Bermudians because it brings the matter home to them. Perhaps, no one really cares if the media is muzzled by a council because the media’s power is already so diminished.

  19. Correct in some ways but wrong in some. “Communication can no longer be controlled, unless you are going to control internet communication”……

    Tell that to local blogs and forums that run most of the local ” ” Internet” ”

    Have a great day.

  20. Pingback: The Media Council – Missing in Action? | "catch a fire"

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