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Beware of any new broadcasting legislation

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Fri, Feb 10. 2012

Editor: “Media Bill coming in 2012” Yes – That was the name of a newspaper article in which Vincentians were told of a coming Broadcasting Bill. “Governor General Sir Frederick Ballantyne, while delivering the Throne Speech,{{more}} said the Broadcasting Bill will not infringe on the constitutional “protection of freedom of expression” and acknowledges that the broadcasting industry is a “powerful means of effecting cultural change.” Page 10, The News Newspaper, Friday, January 13, 2012.

While Sir Frederick states that there will be no infringement on freedom of expression, it is imperative that Vincentians understand the limits of legislation when it comes to Freedom of Expression. The American Constitution with its great emphasis on the Right to Religious Liberty, which includes Freedom of Speech, tells us that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The Constitution of the United States, Documents of Freedom, p. 28.

“This clause wisely forbids the law-making powers of government from doing the following actions:

(i) Legislating religion, dogma or practice,

(ii) Legislating against religion, dogma or practice,

(iii) Legislating in any way against freedom of speech,

(iv) Legislating in any way against freedom of the press,

(v) Legislating against any assembly or protest of the people who seek redress of government for various grievances.” (A Thesis On Freedom Of Speech, Nyron Medina)

As we await the bill, let us take note that the only types of speech that should be outlawed by any legislation are those which can violate the Rights and Freedoms of another person. For example: Inciting speech, Slanderous speech, Threatening speech and Obscene speech against which there are already existing laws in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Unfortunately, there are other categories of speech that are called offensive, which anti-right Broadcasting legislation often tries to outlaw, but which are not offensive in the truest sense, since they do not constitute a threat to Rights and Freedoms. For example: Critical speech, Ridiculing speech, Insulting speech and Blasphemous speech. These categories of speech are highly subjective as what may be ridiculous or insulting to one person may not be the same for another. Additionally, what may amount to blasphemy, according to a particular religious teaching, may not be the same for another, since all religions do not subscribe to YHWH as God. Since Free speech is a gift from God which communicates thoughts, beliefs, opinions, conscientious convictions, mental values and ideas, then it automatically entails Critical speech, since the beliefs, opinions and values of everyone are not the same.

Therefore, the real aim of any Broadcasting legislation must not be to stifle Free speech but to be a safeguard for tolerance. It should always set the tone for non-persecutive tolerance which is “…the absence of persecution to people whose teachings are not generally liked” and critical intolerance, which is being unable to tolerate a position deemed to be wrong by criticizing it, yet without any violation whatsoever of the Rights and Freedoms of the holder of the position that is criticized.

May the drafters of the impending media bill give due consideration and take heed to these things for the continual flourishing of Free Expression in our land.

Jeanell A. James
jamesjeanell@yahoo.com

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