St Lucia Holds Discussions on Draft of New Electronic Communications Bill

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - April 20, 2012

By the Caribbean Journal staff

St Lucia recently held a two-day consultation on the draft of a new Electronic Communications Bill.

According to Information and Broadcasting Minister Senator James Fletcher, the telecommunications sector in the Caribbean counts for at least 10 percent of its Gross Domestic Product, a fact that he said deserved “critical” consideration in the drafting of the bill.

“The basic aim of the present consultation is to asset ECTEL and the NTRC [National Telecommunications Regulatory Commissions] in resolving some fundamental questions,” he said. “Of particular importance to me is the issue of broadcasting, because I do hold the dual hat of Minister responsible for Telecommunications and Minister responsible for broadcasting.”

The draft of the new bill maintains a “strict” separation between the regulation of broadcasting and the regulation of telecommunications, according to Fletcher.

Although the NTRCs can regulate the technical aspects of broadcasting, the act forbids the NTRCs from regulating any content of broadcasting.

That also means that commissions cannot establish rules on local content requirements, for example, the minimum requirements for local programming on television or radio stations.

The consultation looked at the issues that would affect local broadcasters in St Lucia if the bill were passed.

“Curiously, the convergence of various technologies is giving rise to a blending of traditionally separate activities,” Fletcher said. “Broadcasting is now enabled via means of several different kinds of networks, so that the traditional barriers between pure telecommunication networks and broadcasting are disappearing or have actually disappeared.”

One issue that is creating is the question of whether NTRCs should have the authority to oversee and manage licences issued to broadcasters, and to help in the process of standards development for the industry.

“Of course, the regulation of content by any state authority like an NTRC would need to be limited for legal reasons to adopting only those measures that are necessary and proportional to protect the interest of the public and of the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression that is enshrined in the constitutions of our ECTEL member states,” he said.

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