To: The Board of Directors of ZIZ Broadcasting Corporation and The Honourable Prime Minister in his capacity as Minister responsible for broadcasting.
I offer the following legal perspective, comments and recommendations in response to the outreach by the Corporation for input from the public and cognisant of the commitment of the Government in its 2015 Election Manifesto to allow wider access to the radio and television stations.
For there to be real reform of ZIZ the powers behind that reform must recognize the fundamental constitutional right of access to the station as pronounced by the Courts and confirmed in the 2012 case of Brantley v Parry and others. In delivering the judgment of the Court of Appeal in that case Mr. Justice Mitchell said this:
“For the reasons given above I would dismiss the appeal brought by Mr. Parry, and I would uphold the findings of the learned trial judge that Mr. Brantley’s right to freedom of expression and his right not to be treated in a discriminatory manner by reason of his political opinions under sections 121 and 152 of the Constitution of Saint Christopher and Nevis have been contravened by the failure of the Nevis Island Administration on its nightly Nevis News Cast to cover any of the political events organised by Mr. Brantley’s political party during the campaign leading up to the election of 11th July 2011.”
The Court also said:
“The duty of the government-owned media to work in support of and not to obstruct the public’s right to freedom of information and freedom from discrimination on the basis of political affiliation has been established in our region since at least the decision of Justice Saunders in the first-instance decision Suit No. 56 of 1997, (decided 8th January 1998), in the Talk Your Mind case from Anguilla: Benjamin and others v Minister of Information and Broadcasting and another  UKPC 8.”
In summary there are three fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution which ZIZ (and the Government in its operation and control of same) has a duty to respect. These are:
– freedom of expression
– freedom from discrimination on grounds of political affiliation
– freedom of information.
ZIZ has from inception ignored its duty to respect these rights and has operated as a mouthpiece of the political party in power. The following recommendations could assist in achieving the due recognition and application of the duty:
- The establishment of a professional and independent news service which applies the tenets and standards of news reporting accepted regionally by The Association of Caribbean Media Workers.
- An experienced news journalist should be engaged for 2-3 years to set up the news service and to train local journalists employed by the station. It is particularly important that journalists be trained to ask incisive and difficult questions rather than pandering to the interviewees as is the norm when politicians and other government connected persons are interviewed.
- Fair and ample coverage should be given to the Opposition parties in keeping with their fundamental right and consistent with the news reporting standards. This should occur at all times not only at election campaigns.
- The station should promote televised debates between opposing politicians during pre-election periods. There is a body in Jamaica which does this – the Jamaica Debates Commission. The Commission has in the past, through members who visited our country, expressed an interest in providing advice to St.Kitts and Nevis in organising such debates.
- Programmes on matters of public importance and interest should be broadened and improved to inform and educate the public using local and available foreign expertise on the subjects involved and in appropriate instances allowing public participation. These programmes should include unrestricted discussion on controversial matters.
- The relationship between the ZIZ News Service and the Government Information Service should be established by transparent and published rules.
- Policies of ZIZ which incorporate the above should be established and published.
- A review committee should be established comprising a cross section of Civil Society recommended via a process established in consultation with Civil Society bodies. The duty of the review committee should be to monitor the broadcasting of ZIZ, to receive complaints from members of the public on unfair reporting, other breaches of the reporting standards and any abuses by and of the station, to report publicly on its findings on such complaints, to interact with and make recommendations to the corporate board of ZIZ and to report annually to the public. The station should fund the operations of the committee.
- A code of conduct and process for the appointment of the corporate board of ZIZ should be established with the objective of achieving a fair balance within the membership of the board and obtaining the requisite expertise. A seat should be reserved on the Board for a representative of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
- The commercial exploitation of the station in terms of advertising revenue should be professionalised.
- 11.The station should conduct regular surveys within the community to guage public interest in its programming. The results of the surveys should be published.
- Copyright of artistes should be respected and paid for. Has ZIZ been paying Ellie Matt for his music which is used so liberally by the stations?
CHARLES WILKIN QC
17TH MAY 2016