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Catholic Peace Commission in Mauritius Concerned about Bill to Regulate Radio Stations

flag of Mauritius. Credit: Shutterstock

Members of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) in Mauritius have expressed concerns about the adoption of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Bill, aimed at regulating radio stations in the Indian Ocean Island nation.

In a statement issued Tuesday, December 7, CCJP officials highlight the concerns they have with the bill.

“The members of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Port Louis, in the current context of the vote on the amendments to the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act (IBA Act) which took place last week, express their concerns about the content of these amendments and the conditions under which the vote took place,” they say.

Making reference to the social teachings of the Church, CCJP officials note, “One of the roles of the Justice and Peace Commission is to look at and analyze situations of injustice in conjunction with other bodies and people involved in society.”

“The principle of subsidiarity protects people from the abuses of higher social bodies and encourages the latter to help individuals and intermediary bodies to develop their functions. This principle is necessary because every person, every family and every intermediate body has something original to offer the community,” they explain.

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On November 30, members of the National assembly in Mauritius voted for the IBA bill after very heated debates both in the National Assembly and the media amid public protests in front of Parliament, according to reports.

IBA is the regulatory agency for radio and television broadcasting in the Indian Ocean Island nation. It was created by the IBA Act 2000 to allow for the liberalization of airwaves, leading to the establishment of the first private radio stations in the country two years later.

According to the bill, the director of IBA, the national broadcast media regulator, can ask a judge to order journalists to reveal their sources or “produce any record, document or article needed for the exercise, by the Authority, of its regulatory powers.” 

The new law would also increase the penalties that courts can impose on journalists, extend the IBA’s powers and further undermine its already limited independence.

Media outlets that fail to comply with the rules or journalists who refuse to reveal their sources could face up to a five-year prison sentence and a fine of 500,000 rupees (US$11,260.00) – five times more than the current fine. 

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The new bill equally stipulates that IBA members responsible for settling disputes in the event of an appeal would now be appointed by the government and not by the IBA itself, as has been the case. Under the new bill media Licenses would cost twice as much and would be valid for only one year, instead of three.

This means that the IBA’s director, who is appointed by the Prime Minister of Mauritius, would have an opportunity to strip a media outlet of its license every 12 months.

In their December 7 statement, CCJP officials in Mauritius say the new law will make the operation of radio stations in the country problematic.

“The obligation for a journalist to disclose his sources is contrary to the code of journalistic ethics. Moreover, the use of a summary judgment to force the journalist to disclose information is a double constraint,” they lament.

They add, “These amendments risk killing investigative journalism, which often allows citizens to learn about facts that they could not have access to and thus to sharpen their ability to discern.”

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CCJP officials in Mauritius also express their surprise that the chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Review Panel is appointed by the Prime Minister and that its two assessors are appointed by the minister in charge saying, “This makes us really doubt the independent character of this panel.”

They regret that “there was no consultation with the citizens of this country in order to better discern which amendments would have been absolutely necessary and which would nevertheless respect the right to freedom of expression.”

“We note that there are already bodies in place to limit any abuse of radio stations in terms of indiscriminate and unjust attacks on the integrity of any citizen of this country: the Complaint Committee and other judicial bodies already in place,” CCJP officials in Mauritius further say.

They continue, “This additional element makes us question even more the speed with which these amendments were presented and voted, and this in the absence of the opposition and by a group vote instead of an individual vote as required by the Constitution.”

They call on “all the political leaders of our country to become aware of the essential character of subsidiarity, among other things, which is indispensable to consolidate any democracy and to maintain the continuous participation of citizens in the major decisions affecting our life together, which can be greatly weakened by inadequate decisions.”

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