May 19, 2013 News
Former President Bharrat Jagdeo, in late 2011, mere days before he ended his two terms in office, approved 11 radio frequencies to applicants after they showed that they had the financial means to run the broadcasting operations.
Government made the assertion on Wednesday in response to a stinging editorial by a leading Trinidad newspaper criticizing the controversial issuance of radio licences by the Jagdeo administration in 2011.
The details of the allocations only came to light after the Opposition demanded answers and Prime Minister Sam Hinds was forced to provide these in the National Assembly. It led to street protests by established media houses and worried vendors and attracted widespread condemnation from local, regional and international media bodies.
Even the diplomatic community has advised Government to review the allocations. Party officials have kept largely silent on the embarrassing issue which has pitted the private media against the administration.
Government, in defense of those controversial licences in which several established, leading media houses were overlooked in favour of persons close to Jagdeo and the ruling party, had used a number of different reasons over the last few weeks to justify Jagdeo’s decision.
They said that Jagdeo had the power as the Head of State to do so. They also argued that persons and entities granted the licences have shown that they are of solid financial standings. Government also noted that 11 frequencies were in keeping with a promise to break the state monopoly on radio. At the time of the issuance, only the radio stations controlled by the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) were authorized to operate.
In the reply sent to the Trinidad Express and published last Wednesday, the Government Information Agency (GINA) again argued that the decision to issue the radio and cable licences was in keeping with a promise to end the monopoly.
“The first 11 which were issued were granted to persons with the economic wherewithal to make use of the licences and thus bring an immediate end to the state monopoly.”
The GINA statement sent to Trinidad Express was not disseminated to the local media houses. It went further in defending the allocations.
“The opening up of the broadcast spectrum, with the proliferation of over 20 private television stations across the country, as well as the addition of two daily newspapers, was all done under the current administration and is further testimony of freedom of expression in Guyana.”
Government pointed out to the Trinidad Express that over the past weeks, speculation and misinformation continue to be published despite explanations by the government of Guyana and the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) detailing the process through which radio licences are issued.
“This matter is now being represented by certain sections as the height of illegality and favouritism. But what are the facts? Eleven radio broadcast licences were allocated in 2011 to applicants who are resident Guyanese nationals and who had formally indicated their interest in radio production.”
Licences with multiple frequencies, allowing countrywide coverage, were granted to Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, a close friend of Jagdeo; The Mirror, the ruling party’s newspaper, and to Telcor and Cultural Broadcasting Inc. The other seven “successful” applicants received one each, including singer Rudy Grant and prominent businessman, Alfro Alphonso. The one frequency will contain the radio stations within a certain area. Virtually, all the independent media houses which applied were ignored by the former President.
Other got too
“The list of persons issued with licences includes persons who are unlikely to have any affiliation with the former president or loyalty to the ruling party. The list of radio licence recipients reflects an even spread in both geographic (covering all three counties) and ethnic composition.”
Government also claimed that Guyana’s laws and sovereignty provide for the Head of State to have the final say on the matter. “The Post and Telegraph Act of Guyana, under which the 11 licences were issued, confers on the President, who is the Minister of Information, this authority.”
The statement criticised Trinidad Express for not contacting the government before publishing the Editorial.
Last week, the Trinidad Express, a leading newspaper in that Twin-Island Republic, joined the list of critics saying that “…the PPP has expanded the media in Guyana solely for the purpose, it seems, of increasing the outlets for pro-party, pro-government propaganda.”
Trinidad Express, in its editorial, noted that this does nothing but undermine media here. “It is a general principle that any government which censors or controls the media does so in order to retain power and to hide incompetence and corruption,” the editorial stated.
The newspaper called on Trinidad and Tobago to add its own voice to the critics of “such glaring efforts to deny free expression in Guyana.”
The newspaper noted that the PPP’s favouring of friends and family has been so blatant that the United States and other foreign Governments have officially protested the discrimination displayed by the government.
“But the rest of the world—and no doubt most Guyanese who are not blind PPP supporters—recognised the reality of continuing State control of Guyana radio airwaves which, despite pious protestations, has changed only so much as the administration has wanted.
“It is ironic, if not indeed tragic, that the PPP, which represents a constituency which for decades suffered similar censorship and discrimination from the late and unlamented Forbes Burnham, should now have adopted some of his tactics.”
The editorial was reported in Guyana by Kaieteur News and Stabroek News, two independent dailies who too were sidelined by in the allocation process.
A number of private media houses and Kaieteur News have since taken the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) to court to quash the radio frequencies.
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