Progressive Liberal Party Leader Perry G. Chrsitie.
Below is a formal letter to URCA by the Leader of the opposition PLP, the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie in the wake of the issuance of the interim broadcast rules. It is for immediate release
26th January, 2010
Mr. Michael Symonette
Utilities Regulation and Communications Authority
4th Terrace East Collins Avenue
P. O. Box N-4860
Nassau, the Bahamas
Dear Mr. Symonette,
Re: The Interim Code of Practice for Political Broadcasts (“ICP”)
Please note that this letter and the position set out below represent the collective view of the Progressive Liberal Party.
We reviewed the Interim Code of Practice (“ICP”) issued by URCA to address the content of political broadcast during the Elizabeth by-election. Fundamentally, it is our view that the ICP breaches the Communications Act and also the provisions of the Constitution.
We draw the following to your attention: (i) Section 52 of the Communications Act empowers URCA to make “by determination” matters to regulate content services; and (ii) Section 53 empowers URCA to issue code of practice for audiovisual media services.
It is our view that the ICP must comply with the regime for the making of determinations as set out in the Communications Act, more particularly Sections 99 to 102, inclusive.
In reviewing the Communications Act, it is our view that URCA does not have the authority to issue an interim Code. Based on the same, the ICP is ultra vires.
We also draw to your attention that Part IX of the Communications Act makes it clear that URCA’s jurisdiction to issue a Code is essentially to regulate content. Although content is not defined in the Act, to arrive at a purposeful interpretation, content must be substantively focused on the “message” that is being carried by the audiovisual means. In this regard, we agree with the provisions set out in Clause 5 of the ICP.
We note that the repealed Broadcasting Rules addressed the proportion allotted for political broadcasts by political parties. It appears that URCA has followed that trend in the ICP. This inevitably led to a flawed approach, as at the time of the establishment of the Rules there existed only one radio and television station and therefore the requirement for apportionment was a critical feature of the then regulatory environment.
The present ICP, in our opinion, has failed to recognize the growing number of radio and TV stations that can accommodate political ads and therefore there should be no need to create a system of apportionment. Furthermore, and perhaps more fundamentally, such an approach is a breach of the PLP’s constitutional right to free speech, as guaranteed by the Bahamian Constitution.
Further, in its present draft the ICP is foul of URCA’s duty under Section 5 to ensure that there is an “efficient and proportionate” regulatory environment.
We therefore invite URCA to withdraw the ICP with immediate effect. It is our view that the parties should be free to enter into any arrangements with any media outlet they so choose without regard to the quantity proposed in the ICP. This should apply uniformly to coverage of political rallies, political advertisements and candidates’ broadcasts.
We shall await your confirmation of the same and any response to the specific matters set out above.
Perry G Christie MP
Leader of the Opposition