The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its partner the Pacific
Freedom Forum (PFF), in expressing concern that independent journalism, and the
jobs of local journalists, may be threatened by a proposed telecommunications
bill before the Palau Senate.
According to the PFF, Palau’s
Senate Bill 8-231 is aimed at
updating licensing regulations for broadcasters, but includes a clause banning
foreign ownership of media companies in the country.
This clause would effectively shut down major news outlet Oceania Television
Network (OTN), which is majority-owned by US citizens Jeff Barabe and Kassi
Berg, in partnership with Palauan partners, Jill Senior and Micheal Gordon. OTN
employs a number of Palauan nationals across its news, production and administration
teams, whose jobs are threatened by the draft bill’s ban on foreign ownership
of media. .
PFF reports also suggest that Barabe and OTV staff were actively
excluded from a public hearing on the draft Bill in the Palau Senate on March
When Barabe arrived at the hearing, in response to an ambiguous
invitation from a Senate staffer, the hearing Chair Senator Kathy Kesolei
called a recess, resulting in the cameras recording the hearings being turned
During the off-camera discussion with Barabe, Kesolei reportedly told
the OTV owner he could not make a submission because he did not have a license.
After explaining that he in fact had two broadcast licenses, Kesolei apparently
said that he could submit at a later date. However, when Barabe asked for that
date, Kesolei said that there might not be another hearing on the bill.
“The IFJ shares the PFF’s concerns that the proposed bill could limit
the diversity of media sources in Palau, undermining Palau's constitutional
guarantees of freedom of expression and speech,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Office said.
“We are also concerned for the many local journalists who would lose
their livelihoods as a direct result of this bill”
The IFJ urges the Government of Palau to initiate a series of
transparent and inclusive public hearings on the proposed law change, to ensure
that the interests of press freedom and the public good are served by any
amendments to the existing broadcasting regulations.
Similar attempts to ban foreign ownership of media in Palau were made in
2009, when a similar provision was included in a draft Senate Bill introduced
by broadcast owner and Senator Alfonso Diaz. The bill was subsequently dropped
amid legal challenges which resulted in a criminal complaint filed by the
Special Prosecutor against Senator Diaz for anti-competitive and unfair
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