Private Sector Commission

Private Sector Commission – Flawed Amendment to Flawed Act

 

The Private Sector Commission (PSC) has noted with increasing concern, the passing last Friday, 4th August, 2017, of the Broadcast (Amendment) Bill 2017, now before the President for his ascent.

The Commission preferred to refrain from commenting on this Bill, which is clearly contentious, until it had been fully debated in the National Assembly.

The Bill will now amend the Broadcast Bill 2011 which itself, though it did not invite much public attention at its passing, is, in the opinion of the Commission, far from adequate in a number of critical aspects in delivering a Broadcasting Authority and Law meeting certain fundamental provisions for administering and regulating broadcasting in our country.

The 2011 Bill, for instance, establishes a Broadcasting Authority, entirely composed of persons appointed solely by the President, completely compromising the independence of the Authority. The precedent has long been set in the United Kingdom, Canada and the majority of Commonwealth Countries and in the USA, to ensure that, even though Broadcasting Authorities are appointed by the government, in practice there is extensive and widespread consultation with the political opposition and civil society as to their composition.

The Commission, in fact, holds the view that this government has missed a golden opportunity to have revisited and revised the 2011 Broadcasting Bill which did not, at the time of its passing, receive full and adequate consultation with licenced broadcast owners and the general public.

Instead, the government has used its majority in Parliament to enforce amendments of a bad Bill which bring into question the government’s intention with regard to the Amendment’s real purpose and the government’s commitment to freedom of expression in the broadcast media.

The Bill to amend the Broadcast Bill 2011, offensively, provides for the cancellation of all current broadcasting licences in place immediately before the commencement of the Act, forcing these licencees out of business with no option but to reapply for a licence in a totally unreasonable period of time.

The Commission wishes to point out that these licences were issued under the law, however bad the law, to broadcasters who have made considerable investment and accepted in good faith that they will not be arbitrarily cancelled without cause.

In fact, the Amendment to the Broadcast Bill has been introduced by the government without any serious prior consultation with Broadcast Licencees, never mind public hearings. The Commission finds this to be totally unacceptable and a complete departure from internationally accepted norm and practice.

The Amendment of the Broadcast Bill also, again without any consultation, provides for the Broadcasting Authority to enforce the provision of broadcasting time on licencees of a minimum of one (1) hour per day at times which include prime time commercial broadcasts for the purpose of “public service programmes”, whatever that may be, entirely at the discretion of the Prime Minister who, in any event, has ultimate direction over broadcasting content under the 2011 Bill.

The Commission, while acknowledging that there is legislative precedent for government to place public service programmes on private commercial broadcast stations, the nature and content of this material is usually very carefully defined in Broadcast Regulations to ensure against programmes involving political and/or controversial material intended specifically to serve the interest of any political party outside of an election period.

The Private Sector Commission urges the President to send the Bill amending the Broadcast Act back to Parliament for extensive public consultation with the Broadcasting Licencees, and, indeed, the general public. The Commission further encourages the President to consider amendment and revision of the 2011 Broadcasting Act to reflect a broadcasting policy and philosophy for using the airwaves which will serve the public interest and convenience subject to the constitutional guarantees of free speech and expression.


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