– says 1,000 percent increase will effectively close operations
As time runs out today for a number of TV and radio stations to submit critical documents in order to be licensed, six broadcasters have started legal proceedings challenging a $2.5M fee that they say was arbitrarily imposed by Government.
The new fees, if allowed to be fully implemented, will effectively close operations as owners will be unable to afford them, representatives claimed yesterday.
The six stations that have initiated the court actions include CNS Channel 6; HBTV Channel 9; RBS Channel 13; HGTV Channel 16; MBC Channel 42 and SKAR Channel 102.
Yesterday, representatives of Channel 9 and Channel 13 confirmed that their lawyers have drawn up legal challenges that would have been filed within hours.
Today is the deadline given by the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) for broadcasters –TV, radio and cable TV- to submit outstanding documents, including financials and other technical information. Compliance will also mean paying both the licensing and spectrum fees. A number of operators which have complied have already received their licences.
Yesterday, Jacob Rambarran of Channel 13, and Charles Griffith of Channel 9, both said that the “imposition” of the fees has been a major worry for operators, since being announced earlier this year.
There were no proper consultations with stakeholders prior to the fees being implemented, they say.
The court case will challenge, also, whether the Cabinet of Ministers itself has the authority to decide on fees for broadcasters or if the Parliament should not have played a role.
According to Rambarran, the fees would represent a massive 1,000 percent increase to what was previously the case.
The board of directors of GNBA was appointed last year but the secretariat is still to be fully established. However, broadcasters have been directed to submit new applications for broadcasting operations to the GNBA.
Approved licencees have to pay two fees before they are handed their licences. The licence fee was set at a minimum of $2.5 million by Cabinet – the Council of government Ministers chaired by the President, GNBA’s Chairperson, Bibi Shadick, announced back in June.
The Cabinet reportedly directed that the licence fee be calculated at three percent of gross income for the preceding year, but it should be not less than $2.5 million.
So even in a case where three percent of the licencee’s gross income is less than the $2.5 million, that licencee still has to pay $2.5 million.
It has been reported the spectrum fee charged to CNS Channel 6 has more than doubled moving from $320,000 to $680,000. This fee, as mentioned before, is separate from the $2.5M.
There is no clear cap on what the spectrum fee should be. CNS Channel 6 has been asked to pay the minimum licence fee plus $680,000 as the spectrum fee.
The TV stations are contending that the fee is part of a wider plan to drive them out of business.
GNBA announced earlier this month that warning letters were sent to a number of broadcasters of the October 31 deadline. These include the state-owned NCN Channel 11; NTN Channel 18/Cable 69; STVS Channel 2; the government-owned Guyana Learning Channel; RBS Channel 13; WRHM; TTS of Bartica and the New Guyana Company.
The issue of broadcasting has been a contentious one between the
Government and the Opposition after 11 radio applications were approved for licences by former President Bharrat Jagdeo in late 2011, days before he left offices. This was despite a standing agreement for no new licences until new broadcasting regulations and the GNBA were in place.
Jagdeo’s best friend, Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop received one with multiple frequencies. Also receiving a similar number of frequencies was The Mirror, a newspaper which belongs to the ruling party, and Telcor, a company with close links to serving Natural Resources Minister, Robert Persaud.
The disclosures of the licences, which also included approval for two cable TV operations, have sparked court cases and several days of protests, as well as local and international condemnation.
The administration has been accused of attempting to take control of the media by its actions.
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