SENATE BANS OTV FROM PUBLIC HEARING ON LEGISLATION THAT ELIMINATES OTV’S RIGHT TO OPERATE TELEVISION IN PALAU
Republic of Palau – March 29, approved 2012
On March 29, 2012, the Senate Committee on Resources, Commerce, Trade and Development held a “public hearing” on Senate Bill 8-231 that proposes to entirely revamp television and broadcasting rules in Palau and also prohibit OTV from the television broadcasting business.
The hearing was chaired by Senator Kathy Kesolei, also in attendance were Senate Committee Members Toribiong, Akitaya, and Chin.
The Senate invited participants to the hearing, but OTV was not on the list of invitees. The day before the hearing OTV wrote a letter to Chairperson Kesolei requesting to be included at the hearing and was told that OTV should appear at the Senate Chambers at 11 a.m.
OTV and its entire full-time staff, all of whom are Palauans, attended the public hearing. OTV was represented by President Jeff Barabe who sat in the Chambers while the rest of OTV staff were told to watch from the gallery.
On camera, Chairperson Kesolei acknowledged the presence of PNCC General Manager, Mr. Misech and Roll ’em Productions’/OTV President, Mr. Barabe. Chairperson then noted that she received OTV’s letter requesting inclusion in the hearing and would respond to that request in writing, and then abruptly, Kesolei called a recess and the Senate cameras were turned off.
What happened thereafter was purposefully not filmed. With the cameras off, Chairperson Kesolei informed Mr. Barabe that the Committee would not entertain any public comments from OTV at this hearing and that no future public hearings on this Bill had yet been scheduled nor did she know if there would even be another hearing. Mr. Barabe explained that the Bill threatens the existence of OTV’s decade of media involvement in Palau and that as the only foreign media entity effected by this Bill, OTV had a right to be heard. Chairperson rejected Barabe’s plea to be heard and refused to recognize any statements from him or from those Palauan owners and employees sitting in the gallery who attempted to be heard.
Senate Bill 8-231 contains a provision that makes foreign media ownership illegal. This is the same provision that was included in Senate Bill 8-19 introduced by Senator Diaz in 2009 and that met legal challenges, including a criminal complaint filed by the Special Prosecutor for misuse of his public office for anti-competitive and unfair business practices.
Below is an Account of what happened when the cameras were turned off.
EVENTS OF PUBLIC HEARING ON SB 8-231
OEK SENATE FLOOR 11:00A MARCH 29, 2012
SUBJECT: RADIO BILL WHICH WILL LOOSEN PENALTIES FOR BROADCAST VIOLATIONS AND ELIMATE FOREIGN OWNERSHIP OF TV AND RADIO
Richard Miesch and Jeff Barabe enter the senate chamber and are seated. Kathy Kesolei Chair; Senators and Akitaya, Toribiong and Chin are present.
Kathy Kesolei: This is a public hearing on senate bill 8-231. Attending is Richard Meisch, General Manager of PNCC and Jeffrey Barabe, President of Roll’em Productions. I am speaking in English. Mr. Barabe I received your letter at 8:00PM last night and have not had a chance to respond, but we will be sending a letter back. This morning we heard the Government speak on this Bill and now we will hear PNCC and later it will the people from radio. But PNCC is here now and we don’t have time for you, so you can submit your written comments. Now let’s take a recess.
(AT THIS POINT THE SENATE CAMERAS ARE TURNED OFF)
Jeff Barabe: I am sorry, can you explain what just happened?
Kesolei: You can submit your written comments, we are going to talk to PNCC.
Barabe: Excuse me Madame chair, we were told to be here this morning at 11:00am to participate in the public hearing, are you telling me I can’t speak?
Kesolei: We have PNCC here, they can speak for your company.
Barabe: Why would PNCC speak for Roll’em Productions and OTV? That is like having the House speak for the Senate.
Kesolei: We invited people who have broadcast licenses and you were not on the list.
Barabe: Excuse me, we have two broadcast licenses and a third one pending. This Bill you are discussing has a major impact on my company and you are saying I can’t speak?
Kesolei: No you cannot — maybe at the next pubic hearing.
Barabe: Why did you have the cameras turned off so people can’t see this? When is the next public hearing?
Kesolei: I don’t know if there will be another public hearing.
Barabe: So let me get this straight. We were told to be here at a public hearing that has a major impact on Roll’em productions. We are the only foreign television station and this Bill will ban foreign ownership and you won’t let me publicly address my concerns?
Kesolei: You can submit written comments.
Barabe: I don’t want to submit comments — I want to speak at a public hearing and you are saying I can speak at the next hearing that will never happen. What is going on here???
Barabe: (looks to gallery speaking to OTV crew) Guys this is your company too, do you have anything to say?
(the OTV crew stands up and begins to speak)
Senate Officer: Don’t lean on the rail and sit down.
Olkeriil Kazuo: (stands) Madame chair….
Senate Officer: The chair has not recognized you sit down.
(quiet on the Senate floor)
Barabe: So what am I supposed to do now, leave?
Barabe: (stands) This hearing is a sham, it is a travesty of justice. Disgusting. (walks out)