Jul 12, 2013 News
By Abena Rockcliffe
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) yesterday dubbed the government’s move to drastically hike broadcasting licence fee as one intended to cripple broadcasters who appear not to be pro-government.
A few weeks back, the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) announced that radio and television broadcasters would now have to pay an annual licencing fee of $2.5Million or 3% of their gross income, providing that the 3% is more than $2.5 Million.
The new fee represents a massive increase from the sum of $240,000 annually that was required in previous years.
APNU Member of Parliament Joseph Harmon said at a party press conference yesterday that on June 19, GNBA’s chairperson, Bibi Shadick called a conference and declared that the Cabinet had stipulated new rates for Broadcasters.
According to Harmon, when Shadick was questioned about “inconsistencies,” her response was “I don’t know, I’m just calling out what I got.”
Harmon said that it is more than ridiculous that the head of the Authority “didn’t know.”
He added that the issue of the licencing fee brings into sharp focus APNU’s concern about the Broadcast Act #13 of 2011 on some of its provisions which in their view, offends the freedom of expression guaranteed in Article 136 of the Constitution of Guyana.
He said that the clear direction of Cabinet in the affairs of the Authority makes the body less independent and autonomous than it was intended to be.
Harmon said that television stations that are perceived to be “sympathetic” to the views of the opposition will be targeted. He opined that the new technique of fee manipulation will make it less profitable to operate and eventually put “these” television stations out of business.
According to Harmon, it is an environment where the advertising dollar is a scarce commodity, one where the state-owned media competes for the same advertising dollar as the private media and one where advertisers have expressed fears and concerns of victimization when they advertise on certain television stations.
He said that in light of such, the time when the TV stations can be faced with closure cannot be far off.
Harmon said that in the meantime, APNU is calling on the authority to meet with the television station owners to review and agree on a rational fee.
Veteran Broadcaster Anthony Vieira said at the press conference that the imposition by the government of a $2.5M fee on the station owners must be rejected, simply because at the time of application they had no idea of having to pay that sum. He dubbed that the cart before the horse syndrome.
Vieira said some broadcasters have already indicated that they intend to move to the courts over the new fee if the Broadcasting Authority does not take a second look at the fee structure.
He explained that by asking broadcasters to pay $2.5 Million or 3% of their gross earnings if it is more than that figure, the GNBA is assuming that television stations and radio stations earn over $80 Million per year.
He opined that the fee structure should look at the areas where the various television stations and radio stations operate. He said earning power in the specific communities of broadcast must be examined. According to Vieira, the GNBA cannot expect a television or radio station which is only allowed to operate in a small community or a specific region to have the same earning power as those in the city or those allowed to broadcast nationally. He said the way the GNBA is currently operating, gives the impression that the authority is treating the broadcast sector as a “pappy show”.
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