St Helena Online

Tag: Media Standards Ordinance

St Helena’s press law a step too far for Britain?

British politicians are divided over whether to bring in tough press controls similar to those on St Helena.

The prime minister, David Cameron, said enforcing standards by law could end three centuries of press freedom.

But the leaders of the other two main parties want the government to pass a new law to protect people from abusive reporting.

Changes to press regulation have been recommended by Lord Justice Leveson after Mr Cameron ordered an inquiry in press conduct.

His suggestions have some similarity with St Helena’s Media Standards Ordinance, which set up a commission with judicial powers. Its members are appointed by the island’s governor, but on the advice of its independent Judicial Services Commission.

They can impose fines, and any editor or publisher who refuses to co-operate with the media board could be punished under contempt of court powers.

The judge does not say the UK government should go that far. He advises a tougher form of self-regulation, meaning newspapers should set up an independent body to rule on breaches of a code of conduct, but with greater powers than existed before.

A new law should be passed to back it up and ensure that it stood up for press freedom and high standards.

John MacRitchie, St Helena’s chief magistrate and president of the new media standards commission, has said in the past that self-regulation could not work on St Helena because the media industry was too small.

He has insisted that the standards commission would be free from government control, even though the governor had the power to decide who could serve on it.

Concern has been expressed on St Helena that the law might be used in future to restrain media freedom – a vital part of democracy.

It is already constrained because of secrecy in government decision-making.

But the media standards law also says that human rights such as free speech must not be compromised.

In London, Lord Leveson’s recommendations divided the coalition government.

David Cameron said he had “serious concerns” over statutory regulation but his deputy, Nick Clegg, said he supported controls underpinned by a new law.

And Labour leader Ed Miliband urged the government to accept the report in its entirety.

Mr Cameron said: “We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and the free press.

“The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians whether today or some time in the future to impose regulation and obligations on the press.”

Island’s media watchdog is left short of members

Island’s media watchdog is left short of members

Efforts are being made to find more people to serve on St Helena’s media standards commission, only weeks after it was set up.

Julian Cairns-Wicks reported in the St Helena Independent that it had been established with the minimum number of members required by law – and one of them had since stepped down.

But St Helena Government said only one complaint had been made since new controls came into effect on 9 October 2012, and it was dismissed by the board’s president, John MacRitchie.

The Media Standards Ordinance says between two and four people must serve on the commission, alongside Mr MacRitchie, who is the island’s chief magistrate.

Jenny Corker and Steve Biggs were named as the only two members, but Mr Biggs has declined to take up his place.

A government statement said: “Mr Biggs has never accepted any commission, having taken no oath of office. There have accordingly been no meetings of the members of the commission.

“The Judicial Services Commission are to advise the governor as to the appointment of up to three more commissioners.

“It is essential to ensure that such members are those best placed to justly, independently and impartially carry out the regulatory objectives of the commission.”

Those sitting in judgment on complaints will have judicial powers.

The government said it was confident the commission would have enough members in place – a quorum – in time to deal with any future complaints.

It said they will be called in only after the president decides a complaint merits an inquiry.

“The initial stages of the complaints process are such as to be dealt with by the president and the clerk of the commission,” it said.

The first complaint under the new law objected to anonymous letters being published. But the complaint form was incomplete and no further information was supplied when requested.

“The complainant was advised that a complaint must be about a specific item in a specific publication or publications and specify which part of the editor’s code this specific item is said to breach,” said the statement.

“The president therefore directed that in the particular circumstances it was not appropriate for the commission to inquire into the complaint.”

The complaint was dismissed.

Media Standards Ordinance, St Helena

St Helena approves law that top judge warned against

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A law that could see journalists sent to prison for what they write or broadcast has been given final approval by St Helena’s British governor and its executive council.

It comes a year after Britain’s most senior judge warned that legal or government influence over the media’s work would be a threat to basic freedoms.

The Daily Telegraph said: “It is no coincidence that countries with the highest levels of corruption have the most tightly regulated media.”

It is not possible to represent the views of executive council members on the issue because the media is excluded from its meetings and is not allowed to see copies of agendas, reports or minutes. A comment has been invited.

A St Helena Government spokesman has previously told St Helena Online that no decision would be taken that infringed human rights law – which protects free speech.

Read more: St Helena’s media standards law: a threat to freedom?