The new media legislation proposed by the coalition government is aiming to preserve the elements of media ownership regulation and registration contained in the current Media Industry Development Act for now while eliminating the restrictive and draconian content regulation provisions of the Act.
The coalition government will have public consultation on the draft Media Ownership and Registration Bill 2023 this Thursday that seeks to amend the Media Industry Development Act 2010.
In the case of every media organisation registered under the Act, the editor must be ordinarily resident in Fiji; and at least 90 percent of its ultimate beneficial ownership must be held by citizens of Fiji who are ordinarily resident in Fiji.
If a media organisation is at any time in breach of this for a period of more than 30 days, that media organisation and every ultimate beneficial owner of the media organisation commits an offence punishable, in the case of a natural person, to a fine not exceeding $10,000 and in the case of a company, to a fine not exceeding $50,000.
The draft Bill further states that a media organisation may only operate a media service using one medium, and where a person or an associate of that person has ultimate beneficial ownership in any one media organisation, that person may hold ultimate beneficial ownership in only one other media organisation operating in a different medium, not exceeding 5 percent of the total ultimate beneficial ownership of that media organisation. The cross media law does not apply to a media organisation in which the State owns a majority shareholding.
In this case, only the state owned broadcaster, FBC continues to enjoy the cross media exemption as allowed in the current Media Industry Development Act where the government owned entity is operating radio and television stations.
The Bill says the operation by a news organisation of websites or social media pages shall not be considered a “different medium” if such websites or social media pages comprise or support a media service of that media organisation or contain substantially the same content as that media service.
Any media organisation or any person in breach of any provisions of this part shall be liable on summary conviction in the case of a natural person to a fine not exceeding $10,000 and in the case of a company to a fine not exceeding $100,000.
The draft Media Bill also says no media organisation or officer of a media organisation which is a public listed company shall be liable for the offence if that person proves to the court, on the balance of probabilities, that the person had no actual knowledge of any matter in relation to the sections comprising a breach of the Act.
The proposed law says it is fair to say that even the ownership regulation and registration provisions contained in the Bill may be viewed as unnecessary or even restrictive.
It says whether these provisions remain in future is a matter for wider consultation.
The proposed law says the principal purpose of retaining the registration requirements is to ensure that mainstream media organisations remain legally accountable as such; and that anyone wishing to take legal action against them (whether in civil proceedings for defamation or any criminal proceedings) is able to ascertain from the public record (and the organisations’ own websites if any) the persons who are legally responsible for publication of any impugned content.
It says this reflects the purpose of the old Newspaper Registration Act (Cap. 106) which was repealed by the Act (but whose elements were retained in the Act).
It further says changes to cross-ownership rules belong to the wider consultation process.
The explanatory notes of the draft Media Bill states that it is not intended as a complete reform of Fiji’s media law landscape.
It says wide-ranging and more comprehensive consultation will be required on this, to take into account required changes in laws concerning defamation and personal privacy, new technologies and new platforms such as social media.
The coalition government also says consultation on foreign ownership and cross-ownership rules for media services will also be necessary.
It says for now it is necessary to free Fiji’s mainstream news media from the restrictions under the current Media Act.
The draft Bill says as a commitment of the Government to address issues that are undemocratic, threatens the freedom of expression under section 17 of the Constitution and hinders the growth and development of a strong and independent news media in Fiji, the Media Ownership and Registration Bill 2023 seeks to amend the Media Industry Development Act 2010 accordingly.
It also says any excessive concentration of ownership in a medium would ordinarily be regulated by the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission Act 2010.
The Bill also says prosecutions may only be brought within six months of the commission of any offence and may only be brought with the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The purposes of these limitations (which existed in the Act) are to avoid or at least limit, as far as possible, any unnecessary or politically-driven prosecutions against media organisations.
It says prosecutions must be timely and the DPP has the right, in the exercise of his own judgment, to decline to proceed with a prosecution.
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