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Date Posted: 16:09:27 08/25/06 Fri
Author: Ken Clark
Subject: Re: 4992 FIJI: Broadcast bill sparks media protest

PINA's comment:

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Chairman
Sector Standing Committee on Administrative Services
Parliament House

Attention: Committee Secretary (Kalo)

Dear Sir

The Pacific Island News Association (PINA) wishes to comment, as invited, on the Broadcast Licensing Bill, presently under consideration.

Thank you for the opportunity to have our say on this issue of importance to all of the people of Fiji and the Pacific Region.

Our concerns revolve, for the most part around the media freedom issues inherent in the matter under discussion. PINA is committed to the preservation of Media Freedom everywhere and in particular in the Pacific.

Specifically our concerns are:

The Bill would provide the Minister for Information and Communications in Fiji with remarkable power to control the make up of the authority, the programming advertising and technical codes.

The Minister would appoint (and remove) the members of the Authority.
The Minister would have the power to formulate policy and give policy directions
The Minster would appoint the Secretary of the Authority
The Complaints Committee would necessarily consult the Ministry
The Minister would make regulations without necessarily consulting the Authority
The Minister would determine the allowances paid to Authority members
The Minister will; formulate policies relating to broadcasting and give general and specific policy direction to broadcasters

Each of these areas on its own would be sufficient for PINA to wish to comment. Taken as a group they are sweeping controls that would have a remarkably deleterious affect on broadcast media in Fiji and as a consequence on Media Freedom in the country. Freedom would be at the convenience of the Minister.

The Authority, as supervised by the Minister, would develop an Advertising Code and a Programming Code and would oversee the implementation of the codes. These codes already exist and work well under the Media Council of Fiji’s administration.

The Authority would set the number of hours which a broadcaster would broadcast, set local content requirements, specify the number of repeat broadcasts and set the language in which the broadcaster would broadcast.

Each of these conditions is vital to any commercial broadcaster and reflects directly on the costs of that broadcaster. Some commercial broadcasters are listed companies on the South Pacific Stock Exchange and as such have obligations to their shareholders and to the stock exchange system. These proposed regulations would fly directly in the face of the necessary business activities of these listed broadcasters and whether listed or not, each commercial broadcaster must make a return on the investment made to establish the business.

Such regulations work against the necessary business activities of commercial broadcasters

Cross media Ownership

Further the media cross ownership issues would be determined by the terms of the Broadcast Licensing Bill as and when it became an Act.

It is PINA’s view that cross media ownership in this modern world is an issue that should be separately deliberated upon and many other factors should be considered – where does the internet fit, how will the management of spectrum affect all of the parties interested in their use to the benefit of the community.

Spectrum management

As we understand the plan, there would be one group of Authority responsible for administering Broadcast spectrum and another assigned to the management of the rest of the spectrum. Surely it will be simplest and most cost effective to have one over all authority handle the administration of the entire spectrum.

Further, there is underway at this very moment, a review of the telecommunications system in Fiji. Surely this matter should be resolved before any further licensing restriction is imposed.

Advertising Code

PINA fails to understand why the bill would impose restrictions on the content of advertising to the extent that the bill proposes.

Why restrict the advertising of prescription medicines? These are advertised widely in North American broadcast systems.

Present licenses allow the advertising of alcoholic beverages – why impose restrictions?

Audiences determine what they will or will not watch. The amount of advertising permitted will be determined by the audience by way of their “remote” switch. Why regulate it?

Broadcasters make an important contribution to election coverage in the country. Why should political parties or candidates be restricted from advertising as long as the party is identified?

The result of such a restriction would be severe cutbacks on expensive election coverage and a negative affect on the prospects of a political party in a modern democracy.

Programming Code

All of the components of the potential programming codes are presently covered in the Fiji Media Council Code of Ethics and Practice.

There is no need to change the system so that all of what a broadcaster does becomes subject to the jurisdiction of the courts as proposed to the less obtrusive and less costly present system.

Our preference would be to endorse and strengthen the Fiji Media Council system and require that all broadcasters become members of the Council along with all other media. The Ministry of Information and Communication is already represented on the Fiji Media Council.

There are many concerns in this proposed legislation for PINA – but the main one is the restriction on Media Freedom.

It is our preference, while recognizing the need that spectrum is effectively managed, that this be done without the considerable restrictions revealed in the proposed Broadcast Licensing Bill.

Yours sincerely

Ken Clark
On behalf of the Board of Directors of PINA

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