The media in Bermuda today announced their decision to set up a self-regulated media council in the country by 14 September, 2010. The decision was announced in a joint statement which also highlighted a commitment by the media to jointly sign and adopt a Code of Practice by 8 June 2010.

The International Press Institute (IPI) welcomes and supports this initiative, which comes as a reaction to a proposed “Media Council Bill” tabled by the Government earlier this month. As IPI pointed out at the time, the bill constituted a worrying attempt to interfere in the functioning of the media. “Under the provisions of the bill, the Governor of Bermuda is empowered to choose six members of the Council as well as a chairman,” IPI warned at the time. ”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.”

According to the joint statement, the media will submit a proposal to the Cabinet Office by 8 June outlining the aims, scope, membership structure and complaints procedure of the proposed self-regulatory media council.

Notably, the statement specifies that online news outlets will also be contacted for input.

The move will be coordinated by Tony McWilliam, editor of the Bermuda Sun, assisted by Glenn Jones, general manager of and veteran journalist Meredith Ebbin, working closely with the co-signatories of the proposal.

“Public debate has been lively in recent weeks and we feel the case for media self-regulation, drawing from examples around the world, has been well made”, the joint statement said. “Conversely, the potential drawbacks of a statutory media council, with heavy political representation, have also been highlighted. We feel confident that this proposal will meet goals we share with government of raising journalistic standards, elevating accountability and providing an effective forum for grievances against the media — while eliminating the negativity associated with a statutory body.”

At the time of the tabling of this bill, IPI pointed out that voluntary, independent and self-regulatory media councils were vastly preferable to regulation “enacted by law and contain(ing) an in-built bias to the state (which) creates powers that, if applied, would deeply inhibit the media’s ability to act in the public interest.”

IPI Director David Dadge said: “We welcome this initiative by the Bermudan media to create a self-regulatory media council. It is clear that the Bermudan media wishes to voluntarily adhere to high professional standards, and serve its readership, without being constrained by statutory regulation. We hope that the government will now revoke its proposed Media Council Bill.”