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Bermuda: Media Council

“I believe the Media Council bill is badly written, steeped in political motive, and an affront to freedom of the speech in Bermuda”: Vexed Bermoothes thinks the implementation of the proposed bill “is flawed for many reasons.”

2 comments

  • I agree, we issued this today:

    Flawed Bermudan Media Bill Infringes on Press Freedom

    VIENNA, 17 May: The Bermudan government has drafted a controversial media bill that appears to have more in common with the media legislation of some of the repressive governments in Latin America, than with the First Amendment tradition of one of its close trading partners, the United States.

    Speaking on 6 May 2010, Bermudan Premier Ewart Brown announced that the government of the British overseas territory of Bermuda had drafted a media bill.

    Premier Brown stated in his speech that the government expects the bill, titled the “Media Council Act 2010, “…will not only fill a void in our society, but … will be widely used.”

    He went on to say: “The Media Council will raise the bar on reporting in Bermuda. Strong reporting and an accurate, fair and balanced media are vital to national growth and democratic success.” The Bill is now expected to go before parliament in the coming weeks.

    Having examined the draft bill, the International Press Institute (IPI), the global network for a free media, believes it to be deeply flawed. If enacted, it will have a detrimental impact on the media environment in Bermuda as well as the reputation of the Bermudan government.

    Under the provisions of the bill, the Governor of Bermuda is empowered to choose six members of the Council as well as a chairman.

    Given the fact that there are only a further five media representatives, the Bill would appear to have a bias that jeopardises not only the Council’s decision-making process, but also any future code of practice for the media.

    Most worryingly, Section 15 (3) (d) contains a powerful prior restraint clause enabling the Council to prevent the publication and broadcasting of “any news, or comment on the news, that is the subject of the complaint.”

    Due to the bias inherent within the Council, this power could be abused to prevent the free flow of information within Bermuda and might be used by complainants to prevent investigative journalism.

    Commenting on the Media Bill, IPI Director David Dadge said: “It is very unfortunate that Bermuda, with its geographical closeness to the United States and its cultural and political ties to the United Kingdom, has managed to draft a law that would be wholly unacceptable in both countries.

    “Media Councils should be freely chosen by the local media and they should be independent and self-regulating. They should not be enacted by law and contain an in-built bias to the state and create powers that, if applied, would deeply inhibit the media’s ability to act in the public interest.”

    Regarding the process, Dadge added: “I would encourage the Bermudan government to withhold this bill from Parliament and to go back to holding a dialogue with the local media.”

    For more information, please contact:

    Nayana Jayarajan
    Tel: + 43 1 512 9011
    Fax: + 43 1 512 9014
    E-mail: njayarajan@freemedia.at
    http://www.freemedia.at

    Follow us on Twitter:
    http://www.twitter.com/globalfreemedia

  • Valirie Marcia Akinstall

    This is a response to comments made in The Royal Gazette newspaper (in Bermuda) by the International Press Institution’s Director, David Dodge, published May 18, 2010.

    False alarm and scaremongering are the words to explain comments made by the International Press Institute (IPI) regarding the draft Bill – Media Council Act 2010. For the IPI to state categorically:

    “The Bermuda Government has drafted a controversial media bill that appears to have more in common with media legislation of some of the
    repressive governments in Latin America, than with the First Amendment tradition of one of its close trading partners, the United States.”

    To the IPI Director, David Dodge, I say until you have researched the historical background of Bermuda to understand why this piece of proposed legislation is both necessary and timely then you may not be so quick to twist your pen as a knife to compare us to the repressive governments of Latin America.

    Historically Bermuda like many islands of the Caribbean, some countries of Latin America, notably Brazil, United States and Great Britain, where Africans were enslaved and worked as animals for the economic benefit of their masters, each country has shown dissimilarities in its national identity for citizens of African descent. But I cannot speak with any authority about each of the above noted countries except Bermuda – my homeland.

    In Bermuda slavery had very deep roots because it was enshrined in law, but on the 1st day of August 1884 slavery was abolished by law in Bermuda. Yet the 1884 Act did not eliminate, stem or desist in the practice of racial discrimination or dismantle the policies of institutional racism (practices of discrimination within the government); the latter being the most deadly to black Bermudians. Institutional racism (government policies and programmes that selected whites over blacks) remain in effect, some may argue, until the PLP government came into power in 1998, but I think that under the UBP government of Sir John Swan solid economic strides were made. But their attempts at dealing with racism were tepid, at best.

    In Bermuda one can successfully argue that the second most powerful entity (the first being the government of Bermuda) was and still is the media. And, The Royal Gazette has led the media at times with exclusive dominance. So during our protracted era when blacks fought for justice against a racist regime, the government, The Royal Gazette was not our champion for justice and fair treatment, but rather it became a tentacle of the regime. For when blacks were weeded into courts under unjust laws and deadly institutional policies, The Royal Gazette reported those cases not in a fair and unbiased manner, nor did its editorials advocate for justice, respect and the fair treatment of fellow human beings, but it did strenuously advocate for the ‘rule of law’ and the application of the most cruel punishment under law. Without exception the newspaper sided with unjust laws, policies and programmes that dealt the harshest treatment to blacks.

    Today, The Royal Gazette newspaper still reports in the courts and whereas it may be more circumspect, for those who are still being unfairly treated by the media at large, the only recourse is the very expense, protracted avenue of court proceedings, of which many individuals cannot not afford to embark upon. So, I welcome this new piece of legislation, as my only criticism is, where is the mechanism in the Act to compensate the successful complainant?

    Historically we know that the media has not always been on the side of justice, truth and integrity and, in modern day we know that the media can and does still trample on rights, privacy and freedoms of the individuals in its quest in the ‘public interest.’ Just look at the Michael Douglas/Catherine Zeta-Jones v Hello! case in Great Britain, where the contractual agreement between Douglas/Zeta-Jones and OK magazine was destroyed when Hello! magazine sent an undercover photographer to take illicit pictures of their wedding to publish those pictures for no other reason then for the massive commercial profits derived because of the ‘public interest’ in their wedding. This may be a British case but the Douglas’ are beloved residents of Bermuda who enjoy their privacy here and, our laws should protect Bermudians, residents and visitors alike from the intrusive, cattle herd intensity of the global media as we have seen displayed on TV too often.

    Finally Mr Dodge, two years ago I privately lobbied the Cabinet Office (office of the premier) requesting that the government setup a Media Council in Bermuda. I lobbied and advocated for its creation so that Bermudians who have been treated unfairly by the media will have the opportunity to lodge a valid complaint, have that complaint heard, investigated and decided upon without incurring massive legal bills. So, I look forward in having this Bill voted into law as cutting edge legislation that can be adopted by other jurisdictions.

    Valirie Marcia Akinstall
    London, UK

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