The Bermudan government has drafted a controversial media bill that appears to have more in common with the media legislation of some of the repressive governments in Latin America, than with the First Amendment tradition of one of its close trading partners, the United States.

Speaking on 6 May 2010, Bermudan Premier Ewart Brown announced that the government of the British overseas territory of Bermuda had drafted a media bill.

Premier Brown stated in his speech that the government expects the bill, titled the “Media Council Act 2010, “…will not only fill a void in our society, but … will be widely used.”

He went on to say: “The Media Council will raise the bar on reporting in Bermuda. Strong reporting and an accurate, fair and balanced media are vital to national growth and democratic success.” The Bill is now expected to go before parliament in the coming weeks.

Having examined the draft bill, the International Press Institute (IPI), the global network for a free media, believes it to be deeply flawed. If enacted, it will have a detrimental impact on the media environment in Bermuda as well as the reputation of the Bermudan government.

Under the provisions of the bill, the Governor of Bermuda is empowered to choose six members of the Council as well as a chairman.

Given the fact that there are only a further five media representatives, the Bill would appear to have a bias that jeopardises not only the Council’s decision-making process, but also any future code of practice for the media.

Most worryingly, Section 15 (3) (d) contains a powerful prior restraint clause enabling the Council to prevent the publication and broadcasting of “any news, or comment on the news, that is the subject of the complaint.”

Due to the bias inherent within the Council, this power could be abused to prevent the free flow of information within Bermuda and might be used by complainants to prevent investigative journalism.

Commenting on the Media Bill, IPI Director David Dadge said: “It is very unfortunate that Bermuda, with its geographical closeness to the United States and its cultural and political ties to the United Kingdom, has managed to draft a law that would be wholly unacceptable in both countries.

“Media Councils should be freely chosen by the local media and they should be independent and self-regulating. They should not be enacted by law and contain an in-built bias to the state and create powers that, if applied, would deeply inhibit the media’s ability to act in the public interest.”

Regarding the process, Dadge added: “I would encourage the Bermudan government to withhold this bill from Parliament and to go back to holding a dialogue with the local media.”