Region 10 Chairman Sharma Solomon has upped calls for an immediate review of the $2.5M broadcast fee that radio operators have to pay.
The senior official, in a letter to Kaieteur News yesterday, said that he remains convinced that there is an attempt to shut out the voices of ordinary citizens and keep the small operators out of the business.
“Pressure needs to be borne upon the GNBA to review the broadcasting fee. The need for independent radio and television stations in Guyana is extremely necessary to offer greater alternative for fair and unbiased coverage, and cultivating independent thinking,” he said.
The fee is already a contentious issue, with a number of television operators battling the Guyana National Broadcast Authority (GNBA) in a legal battle. The court case was filed in October last year.
“The exorbitant yearly $2.5M licencing fees is rightly being challenged in a Court of Law since it is not only unconscionable, it attempts to deny people a fundamental right and freedom protected in Article 146 of the Guyana Constitution,” the Region 10 Chairman said.
He stressed that the right to freedom of information, sharing and receiving ideas is fundamental to democracy and when this is denied, in this instance under “spurious measures”, it stifles the voice of the people, blankets the nation with fear, and hinders development.
“This young nation, in the information/knowledge age, can ill afford any of these repressive consequences.”
He cited the case of Linden’s Haslyn Graham, a young Linden businessman who was granted permission to broadcast radio signals in late 2011 by outgoing President Bharrat Jagdeo.
“Those venturing out in this environment, particularly in Linden/Region 10, are operating in a climate where the government ignored Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang’s 2008 landmark decision in favour of Lindeners’ right to broadcasting licence and its continued refusal to return the television station (Channel 13) to the people of Linden, even though an agreement was signed between Central Government and the Regional Democratic Council on 21st August 2012.”
Solomon urged that Lindeners support the services of 104.3 Power FM, the station operated by Graham.
In October last year, several TV stations, including CNS Channel 6; HBTV Channel 9; RBS Channel 13; HGTV Channel 16; MBC Channel 42 and SKAR Channel 102, reportedly filed a court case challenging the fee which was announced last year by GNBA.
The operators are contending that the “imposition” of the fees has been a major worry for operators, since being announced. There were no proper consultations with stakeholders prior to the fees being implemented, they claim.
The court case reportedly challenged 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.
The fees would represent a massive 1,000 percent increase to what was previously the case.
The board of directors of GNBA was appointed in 2012. Broadcasters had 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 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 $2.5 million, that licencee still has to pay $2.5 million.
The TV stations are contending that the fee is part of a wider plan to drive them out of business.
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 office. 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. However, several independent media houses including Kaieteur News, Stabroek News and Capitol News were bypassed.
The issue has been a hugely embarrassing one for Government.
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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