Oct 05, 2011 News
– Jagdeo says TV owner’s wife requested four months
International press freedom watchdog ‘Reporters Without Borders’ has condemned the Bharrat Jagdeo government for what it says was the “appalling” move to suspend the licence of CNS Channel Six, a privately-owned TV station, for four months from 30 September.
According to the Paris-based body, the presidential order is all the more reprehensible for forcing the station off the air during the run-up to regional and general elections that must be held by 28 December.
The grounds given for the suspension is a comment that an opposition parliamentarian, Anthony Vieira, made during a programme broadcast on May 4.
“Firstly, this suspension is both discriminatory and absurd,” Reporters Without Borders said. “How can the president’s personal view of a comment made on the air be grounds for reducing CNS Channel Six to silence? But this appalling measure is all the more inopportune coming during an election period. The fact that the station is owned by Chandra Narine Sharma, the leader of the opposition Justice for All Party, is a further reason for seeing it as an attack on pluralism and democratic debate.”
The organisation noted that the president is known for his fraught relations with certain journalists and news media.
Reporters Without Borders noted that the storm over this latest suspension comes on the heels of a controversy about a new broadcasting law that the National Assembly adopted in July.
The body noted that the law provides for a National Broadcasting Authority with a board of seven persons all named by the president. Also clause 32 of the new law says that all programmes must be “fair and balanced.”
“Trying to use legislation to impose criteria about ‘good’ programme content and news coverage is unfortunately the surest way to obstruct the work of the media,” Reporters Without Borders added.
The official reason for the suspension was Vieira’s on-the-air criticism of Protestant Bishop Juan Edghill, the head of the Ethnic Relations Commission. President Jagdeo held the station responsible for the comments, which he said were “intended to sow discord among Christian denominations.”
“There is nothing to stop Bishop Edghill filing a lawsuit over the comments that were made about him but, on the other hand, nothing permits President Jagdeo to use these comments as grounds for imposing censorship,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Meanwhile President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday lashed out at critics of the suspension that have called it harsh, saying that it was the Managing Director of the Station, Savitree Sharma, who requested a four-month ban, and that the TV station owner, CN Sharma, requested two months.
Jagdeo repeated that both Savitree Sharma and her husband have conceded an infringement as a result of the comments, compounded with previous infringements on at least three occasions.
The president said that he acceded to the request of the Sharmas and did not impose the ‘no less than eight months’ suggestion by the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting. This body, he said, comprises an opposition nomination as well as a member of the private sector.
Jagdeo also took the opportunity to hammer members of the opposition saying that they were all jumping on the bandwagon and avoiding the real issue at hand namely that the infringement was tantamount to inciting religions intolerance against each other.
The president pointed out that the fact that elections are close by was not a deciding factor on the suspension timeline but rather the implications of the infringement by CNS TV 6.
“They (Opposition) should have been on my side on this issue.”
A civil society grouping, with the support of opposition political parties, are pressing for the ban to be lifted, and that the government open up the state-own National Communications Network and allow other voices than the government to have their voices heard.
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