Apr 20, 2013 News Comments Off on International media body says Jagdeo’s licences threatens press freedom
– as protest continues outside Kaieteur News yesterday
The Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) deems the distribution of radio and broadcasting frequencies by President Bharrat Jagdeo as unfair and as a danger to freedom of expression in general and press freedom in particular.
This is according to the ACM’s President, Wesley Gibbings, yesterday in a press statement on the settlement of broadcast licensing dispute in Guyana. He believes that the dispute could be settled with dialogue.
Gibbings stated, “The Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) joins with the Guyana Press Association (GPA) in expressing grave concern that the assigning of radio and television broadcasting frequencies in Guyana has not been in keeping with best regulatory practice for the sector and poses a real and present danger to freedom of expression in general and press freedom in particular.”
This danger Gibbings speaks of, was created when Jagdeo ignored independent media requests for radio licences and gifted his close friends and political party with radio and television broadcasting frequencies before demitting office in November 2011.
Private media in Guyana has been protesting Bharrat Jagdeo’s use of executive powers to grant his party’s newspaper, The Mirror, five frequencies to broadcast across the country. The move has widely been seen as carefully planned by Jadgeo and the ruling party to control the airwaves of Guyana.
Jagdeo also granted five frequencies to his personal friend, Dr. Ranjisinghi “Bobby” Ramroop and another five to Omkar Lochan, Permanent Secretary of Natural Resources Minister, Robert Persaud. Persaud happens to be the nephew-in-law of Jagdeo.
The former President did not stop there. He also granted two television cable licenses to close associates–Brian Yong and Vishok Persaud. Persaud is the son of the late former Government Parliamentarian and Agriculture Minister, Reepu Persaud.
Yong was a candidate for the ruling party during the 2011 elections.
Reportedly, the 2.5 Gigahertz band to Persaud and Yong are capable of offering other services, including catering to smartphones and the popular tablets computers. Radios and telephone services could also be offered using this band.
There have been several protests by local media houses which had applications in for radio licences but were inexplicably sidelined when Jagdeo made his decision. There are indications that no procedures were followed and that the former President merely used his executive powers, knowing he had days left in office.
According to Gibbings, the association believes the current unsatisfactory state of affairs can be resolved via a process of dialogue aimed at achieving the following short and long-term objectives.
He suggested the establishment of an independent regulatory authority accountable to the people of the Republic of Guyana through the country’s parliament; and the establishment of an appointments process to the Board of the Authority based on professional familiarity with the media sector and not on political alignment of any kind.
Gibbings said that the governance process for the broadcasting sector should be the responsibility of the Authority, not a Government Minister or Ministry, and should not extend to the Internet.
“Content regulations related to the sector should be clear and unambiguous, be in full compliance with the principle of free expression and designed to satisfy public interest prerogatives as defined under the law,” he noted.
In addition, the process for the granting of licences and concessions should be transparent, fair and equitable and the Authority should be accountable to parliament for its decisions.
Gibbings reminded, “The Republic of Guyana is bound by the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to create the conditions under which freedom of expression is respected and applied by all citizens.”
He said that there is also the globally-accepted commitment to promote the concept of media pluralism as, among other things, a check on the incidence of concentration of media ownership. Under such conditions, all ideas, opinions and other forms of social, political and cultural expression thrive.
“Our proposals should, however, not serve as a constraint on the assigning of frequencies to applicants currently in the queue for consideration. The fact that some licenses have been awarded in the absence of a regime based on transparency and accountability is regrettable,” he said.
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