URCA’s Powers ‘Unconstitutional’


The Constitutional Commission has found that the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority’s (URCA) legislative powers are “unconstitutional” and discriminate against private broadcasters, Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney said yesterday.
“The URCA legislation empowers URCA to exercise an extraordinary high degree of censorship in relation to private broadcasting,” McWeeney told reporters.
“There are a whole litany of considerations, any one of which would entitle URCA to reject an advertisement or reject any other matter that is carried on private broadcasting.”
The observation is included in the Constitutional Commission’s report to the prime minister on recommended constitutional changes.
The report was made public at a ceremony at the British Colonial Hilton hotel. McWeeney said the government should review the legislation governing URCA.
“I think it’s discriminatory,” McWeeney said. “It’s an unfair restriction of the right to express one’s views freely and the level of censorship is just too extreme.”
URCA was created by an Act of Parliament in 2009. The regulator oversees electronic and broadcasting communication.
The commission’s report lists 73 suggestions for the government’s consideration.
The issue with URCA’s powers is raised on page 167 of the report under the section, “Regulation of Political Parties”.
“The commission recommends that electoral laws should provide for matters such as how political parties are to be regulated and funded and for the control of broadcast and television advertising,” the report states.
“The commission is aware that several of these regulatory functions are reposed in the Utilities Regulation and Communications Authority Act, but it questions whether that act does not make encroachments on freedom of expression in contravention of the constitution.”
The commission’s report came after nine months of closed sessions and town hall meetings across the country.
A referendum based on some of the commission’s recommendations is expected in November.
By: Taneka Thompson
Guardian Senior Reporter