…to go off air from Monday; workers to be laid off
CNS TV Channel Six has been ordered off the air for four months starting Monday, owner Chandra Narine Sharma said yesterday after meeting with President Bharrat Jagdeo.
This means that what is arguably the country’s most watched television station would be off the air during this elections season.
National and general elections are constitutionally due by December 28. Following the suspension notice, Sharma said that he would seek an early meeting with the new President to see if the ban could be cut short.
The Guyana Press Association (GPA) last evening took note of the sanctions imposed by the state on CN Sharma and his CNS TV 6.
“Once again, the GPA is troubled by the process by which decisions are arrived at to impose such sanctions,” the GPA stated.
The suspension came on the advice given to the President by the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting regarding a commentary by Anthony Vieira, which was aired on the station on May 4, last.
The ACB had originally recommended an eight-month suspension, Sharma said, but Jagdeo said that he was being “lenient” by cutting the recommended suspension time in half. President Jagdeo holds the portfolio of Minister of Information.
Sharma said that the President told him and his wife that they were responsible for the suspension since they knew of the contents of the offending programme, but was only suspending the station’s license for a month given consideration to their financial obligations.
When he emerged out of the meeting, Sharma said his staff, which numbers over 30, would be out of a job.
President Jagdeo in mid-July said that the broadcast in question contained statements which were reprehensible to the constitution.
Kaieteur News understands that the ACB had determined that Sharma’s licence should be suspended after the station aired the Vieira commentary which made some damning allegations that Chairman of the Ethnic Relations Commission, Bishop Juan Edghill, found disturbing last May.
The television owner had apologised, but Edghill, nevertheless, filed a motion against both Sharma and Vieira seeking more than $50M in damages.
Lawyers for Edghill, Anil Nandlall, Euclin Gomes, and Manoj Narayan, in their motion had stated that the “Bishop” had suffered “tremendous embarrassment, distress and ridicule” by the commentary.
But President Jagdeo said the matter was beyond Sharma and Edghill. The President said that he read the transcript extensively, and both Sharma and his wife had accepted that “people are responsible for their broadcast.”
“The contents are reprehensible to our constitution,” Jagdeo said of Vieira’s commentary. But not only was it against the constitution of Guyana. The President said the contents of the programme infringed significantly on the conditions of the licence under which Sharma operates.
Jagdeo related that in the programme, Vieira claimed that Swami Akshrandan had told him (the President) to take a Christian channel off the air, “implying that there was some kind of Hindu conspiracy.”
The President said he never had any such discussion with the Hindu leader, and therefore the statement by Vieira was “offensive” and designed to create discord among people of different religions, which is forbidden in the laws of Guyana.
Jagdeo said that the Christian channel (Channel 72) was illegally taken over by Vieira, and this led to the cancellation of the licence.
In addition, in the commentary, Jagdeo related that Vieira claims that there was a conflict between Pentecostals and Catholics, and that Bishop Edghill was not doing enough to safeguard Catholics.
Again, Jagdeo said this statement sought to create discord among denominations in the Christian community and was therefore “reprehensible” to the constitution.
“This is a serious matter and I am giving it consideration,” Jagdeo declared.
Sharma had been sanctioned before for comments aired on a live programme, but in this case, Jagdeo said the television owner cannot make that claim since Vieira’s comments were made during a taped programme.
CNS TV’s suspension was hinted at when a mysterious document was sent to him along with a letter by Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, inviting him to a meeting. Luncheon subsequently said he did not know of the document and urged Sharma to ignore it.
The document had said that Sharma was being suspended for a year, and if he did not comply his license would be revoked.
The document sent to Sharma indicated that it was sent by “The Minister of Information” and concerned the May 4, 2011 breach of licence during the Vieira commentary. It also outlined other alleged transgressions by CNS Channel Six.
“With respect to the most recent contretemps, at your meeting with H.E. on June 2011, at the office of the President, both CN Sharma and Savitri Singh Sharma will recall that they accepted responsibility for the telecast of the offending material, asserting as their only excuse that it is human to err,” the document stated.
“Significantly, both also conceded that the contents of the commentary were not in good taste, incited racial hatred, and could have led to public disorder. This admission was compounded by the admission by Savitri Singh Sharma that she had failed to exercise the requisite care and attention as required by their licence.”
The document stated that in her plea to the President, “she offered to ensure that CN Sharma would be excluded from any other relationship with CNS 6 TV.
“H.E explained to them that the meeting had nothing to do with CN Sharma personally, or as a leader of a political party. His responsibility included the welfare of the public generally, and the peace and the stability of the country—this was his primary concern.”
According to the document, “It was noteworthy that the licensee on many of the previous occasions, recurrently claimed ignorance of the fact and non compliance of rules by their employees for the breaches. The licensees repeatedly offered apologies.”
According to the document, CNS, in airing the commentary, had contravened regulation 23 A, of the Guyana Postal and Telegraph Act, Chapter 47:01, laws of Guyana.
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