IBA’s Impartiality Guidelines
Despite strong opposition from civil society and opposition parties across the political spectrum to its earlier initiative to amend the Independent Broadcasting Act by way of regulations – the IBA (Administrative Penalties) Regulations 2022 -the different provisions of which constitute a threat to freedom of expression, the MSM-led governing alliance will not let go. It has now come forward with other provisions in the Independent Broadcasting Authority (Amendment of Schedule) Regulations 2022, dated 3 Dec 2022, which set out impartiality guidelines and which private broadcasters will have to comply with. On the face of it, even if these guidelines appear totally innocuous, its timing however – possibly a few months before the next general elections – makes the whole exercisehighly suspicious.
The earlier ‘Administrative Penalties’ regulations set out the obligations that a broadcaster will have to comply with before obtaining a licence, brought down to a duration of one year from the earlier three years, thereby threatening the financial viability of a private broadcaster. Numerous other clauses, including the power entrusted to the IBA to consider the “past conduct” of the broadcaster before renewing its licence, the obligation to disclose information sources, as well as provisions to by-pass or make tenuous judiciary appeal for these administrative penalties through the powers conferred to an independent review authority mostly filled by political nominees were rightly criticised as constituting a real threat to free speech. They certainly raised constitutional issues on several fronts according to many independent jurists and were construed as a Damoclean sword over whichever private broadcaster which is considered a thorn in the side of the governing alliance. The ‘Impartiality Guidelines’ go one step further down that rabbit hole: it is now putting in law how private broadcasters and their programme presenters should go about ensuring the impartiality of their mostly issues-based, phone-in or other political programmes.
When legislatures are unable or not allowed to hold governments to account, it usually falls upon the press and increasingly now social media to scrutinize governments’ actions, campaign for transparency and accountability. Parliaments are central to making democratic politics function properly and in the public interest. However, they can and indeed have been bypassed during moments of crisis – as during the Covid-19 pandemic – when governments had recourse to emergency procedures for public procurements. It appears to be the case even in established democracies in the western world as much as it does in African and Asian societies. Read More… Become a Subscriber
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 16 December 2022
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