Mar 22, 2013 News
Government finally broke its silence yesterday on embarrassing disclosures that former President Bharrat Jagdeo essentially gifted a number of radio and cable licences to his close friends and party members days before he left office, by saying that he used his “discretionary power”.
But Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon, failed to explain how Jagdeo arrived at those decisions.
Not only was the ruling party’s newspaper, The Mirror, granted five frequencies, but Omkar Lochan, a Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Resources, under Minister Robert Persaud, was given the same number.
Jagdeo’s best friend, Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, also received a similar number.
It is unclear what special criteria were used by the former President that placed Ramroop’s application above that of more established media entities.
The licences would effectively, in the absence of other players, give the government and its affiliates total control throughout the country as far as radio coverage is concerned.
This permission granted to the favoured entities by Jagdeo to broadcast, would have come days before he was due to end his constitutional term and before the November 2011 General and Regional Elections.
Several prominent media houses, like the independently-owned Kaieteur News and Stabroek News, which had applications for the licences were, without explanation, ignored.
Yesterday, several private media houses and worried newspaper vendors gathered at the headquarters of Kaieteur News, in Charlestown, and conducted a peaceful picketing exercise. (See story on Page 3)
It is widely believed now that those media houses, among them WRHM Channel 7; CNS TV Channel 6, HBTV Channel 9 and GWTV Channel 2, were overlooked because of their criticisms and reports of corruption over time on government projects.
Luncheon, during his weekly press briefing yesterday, insisted that Jagdeo’s granting of the licences had to do with the fact that the previous administration had committed to breaking the monopoly of the radio airwaves held by the state.
“That, to us, and the enlightened Guyanese, is the most incisive of events surrounding this entire matter. Cabinet felt that this aspect is inadequately addressed in the media,” the spokesman said.
Luncheon, in seeking to explain how some persons received more frequencies than others, said that “geographic considerations influenced frequency allocations.”
Government and the Opposition had agreed for no new television and radio licences to be granted until new regulations were in place and a special body established to assess applications for TV, radio and other frequencies. This was to ensure a level playing field that would have allowed other players to enter the market.
In 2011, new broadcasting legislation was passed in the National Assembly and assented to by Jagdeo on September 27. However, days before he demitted office, he granted the radio licences.
While the former President has immunity from prosecution, the Opposition and affected media houses are now examining their legal options.
Yesterday, Luncheon said that the discretionary powers used by the former President is under the old Postal and Telegraph Act, which preceded the newer Broadcast Act of 2011 that replaced it.
However, critics said that while Jagdeo or any President, for that matter, enjoys immunity from prosecution, morally he should not have approved the licences under his powers as the Minister of Communication and Information. What made it worse is that the licences went to Jagdeo’s close friends and mostly party members.
Also criticised is the fact that he refused to wait until the Broadcast Authority came into being. The Broadcast Act was signed in September 2011. The Broadcast Authority was not established until August 2012.
Luncheon also said that government was not “interested in removing the monopoly” to the satisfaction of the media or the applicants. Rather, the interest was more in breaking the monopoly, because of a commitment made.
In sending a signal that the government is willing to diffuse growing anger over the issue, Luncheon assured that more licences are being processed.
The Donald Ramotar administration has been under severe pressure to reverse some of the negative images that overshadowed the ruling party in the lead-up to the 2011 elections.
In addition to the questionable deals sealed almost at the eve of the elections, Jagdeo had rocky relations with many of the independent media houses.
President Ramotar has made it clear that he will not be deviating from the developmental course of Jagdeo.
There have been accusations that the radio licences granted are part of a bigger plan by members and close supporters of the ruling party to take over the media and telecommunications sector.
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