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Broadcast Licensing Bill Sparks Media Protest

Broadcast Licensing Bill Sparks Media Protest

SUVA (Pacnews/IFEX/Pacific Media Watch): The introduction of a proposed Broadcast Licensing Bill in Fiji’s Parliament has sparked strong protests from the country’s audio and visual media organisations.

The owner of Fiji's biggest private radio network says he is concerned that the government will abuse its powers over the broadcast media.

The managing director of Communications Fiji Ltd, William Parkinson, made the comment amid calls for the Broadcast Licensing Bill to be scrapped.

The bill will set up a licensing authority whose chairman and five members will all be appointed by the Minister for Information.

Parkinson says Fiji needs legislation governing broadcasting but the industry believes the authority should remain with the Fiji Media Council.

"The big area of concern here is that we have a politically appointed body and it will have quite wide powers to control areas of programming and news content."

Similar strong sentiments came from the chief executive officer of the national broadcaster, the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited (FBCL).

"Our submission was based on protecting the independence of the media against any and all threats to media freedom," said FBCL boss Francis Herman.

"The media must remain a strategic partner to assist in building and maintaining an environment conducive to democracy in any country. It fulfils an important role in holding authority accountable and provides a platform for all peoples to express their views.

"This role of the media must be recognised and enshrined in any such legislation."

Fiji Television’s chief executive officer Mesake Nawari said the proposed bill was not just a thinly disguised attempt by the government to control and weaken the media industry but more worryingly, an attempt to suppress the rights of the people of Fiji to freedom of expression.

"It is extremely disappointing that the Ministry of Communications did not consult widely with the broadcast media and other industry stakeholders during the development of the Broadcast Licensing Bill," said Nawari.

"This is a bill, which in its current form, has such wide implications for the media industry in Fiji and for the rights of the people of Fiji to freedom of expression."

Nawari said media companies such as Fiji TV were only issued a hard copy of a brief presentation by the ministry a few days before the bill was presented to Cabinet.

"It's quite clear that proper consultation with industry players was not done because the bill proposes to control the broadcasters and allows the Government, through the minister, to interfere with operations (advertising and content/programming) of the broadcasters and in particular freedom of the press.

The chairman of the parliamentary select committee, Simione Kaitani, gave an assurance that the committee would protect the independence of the media.

He has invited widespread public submissions on the bill.

Ends

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