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New media legislation – An opportunity to lift our game


Tue, Feb 14. 2012

Editor: In St Vincent and the Grenadines, there is a tendency whenever there is proposed legislation to selfishly attack it by focusing on narrow portions of the subject, in isolation of a comprehensive analysis of its entirety.{{more}}

Jeanell James’ article, ‘Beware of any new broadcasting legislation’, published in the SEARCHLIGHT Weekend edition of Friday, February 10, 2012, is a perfect example of such. Here, she took an alarmist approach and focused solely on the issue of freedom of speech from an individualistic standpoint, without even considering the collective rights of the state, the rights of the others, your rights, my rights.

Her approach is evident in the way she started her discourse with the selective use of the headline ‘Beware of any new broadcasting legislation’. The trigger word ‘Beware’ is synonymous with danger, as well as caution. While some people take negative approaches on the subject of legislation, we must also remember that the state has the legitimate right to protect its citizens. It is the state’s duty to introduce measures, as required, for safeguarding all of us: to guarantee the collective rights of every Vincentian, to secure our rights as a whole and to shield us from people who are quick to exploit, at the expense of every other citizen. Also, there must be foresight to introduce preventative measures to address issues which can lead to abuse, corruption and exploitation. It is clear that sufficient planning was not put in place to deal with the multiplicity of issues now affecting the broadcast industry, when it was liberalized in the mid-1990s.

In her article, James was quick to bolster her argument by referring to the American Constitution. However, there is a need to examine the other side of the coin, that the great United States is also pregnant with double standards. For example, while the United States in its Constitution preaches freedom of speech, on the issue of international media and communication governance, where attempts are made to establish equity in the media, as well as standards for cultural diversity at a global level, the United States has refused to sign on to the ‘UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions’, solely on the basis of trade-related factors, fearing that its opportunities will be curtailed.

I must admit, however, James’ article, which from the onset attacks the right to establish order in the media of St Vincent and the Grenadines, creates an opportunity for Vincentians to be enlightened about the subject, instead of cowering in fear.

Why is the media being legislated? In St Vincent and the Grenadines, there is a legal vacuum where media and communication is concerned. To this end, the body leading the process of regulating the industry needs the legal authority to regulate the

media as a sector of the economy, as well as to strengthen its social, cultural, and political roles. Besides addressing issues of human and social rights, legislation on the media also focuses on information. Information is not mere words as many would like to believe.

Information is also a product, which lies at the heart of the industry. Against this backdrop, the production of information is an economic activity, which the state of St Vincent and the Grenadines, like other democratic countries across the world, has the right to regulate in terms of where it is produced, and how it is priced and disseminated.

In democratic societies, legislating the media takes a holistic approach to address all pertinent issues at stake in the mediasphere. While ‘freedom of speech’ is one of the subjects it addresses, legislating the media as a sector of the economy centres on: ownership of media to support competition; efforts to establish fair conditions to have access to the media, which is often controlled by a few players; universal access to telecommunication services; intellectual property; electromagnetic spectrum; and the convergence of traditional media on the Internet.

On the other hand, the social arm of media legislation secures a place for public service media. It protects you and me from abuse; provides fair access for political debates, as well as community access; offers universal access to cultural activities; and prohibits the dissemination of content which goes against the moral fabric of the society as a whole.

A microcosmic view of such matters causes panic and it also causes the discourse surrounding such issues to be extremely limited. We should welcome such legislation in the hope that it leads to the further development of the media and the public.

Hawkins Nanton