May 11, 2014 News
…Special Parliamentary committee to review operations of airwaves – AFC
One day after the country’s High Court deemed a $2.5M TV broadcast fee illegal, the Opposition has vowed to establish a special Parliamentary committee that will review the operations of the airwaves.
One of the key tasks of the committee will be to make recommendations that will ensure a level playing field for broadcasters.
On Friday, Chief Justice, Ian Chang, ruled that a $2.5M broadcast fee, approved last year by the administration, was illegal.
Television operators had moved to the courts, challenging the fee which it claimed was designed to shove them out, while allowing a few privileged friends of the administration almost total control.
According to Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan, the complaints have been growing.
“It is a foregone conclusion that citizens are being forced to listen to news and propaganda fed by these stations whose owners are mainly friends of the Government. This is clearly in breach of what prevails across the world. The entire policy has to be examined.”
According to the Member of Parliament, another major issue being looked at is whether in allocating the frequencies for radio, there may have been discrimination also.
“We understand that the major stations were given frequencies below the 90 fm frequency. This has significance especially as we all know the radio channels in especially the majority of Japanese vehicles cannot go beyond 90 fm. It suggests a deliberate, well thought out ploy to ensure control. Any new stations will be given the short end of the stick. That is how we operate in Guyana.”
The radio licence issue has been thorn in the side of the administration which has been facing severe criticisms locally and internationally. Even the international media bodies have been vocal with the International Press Association expressing alarm.
Just over a week ago, US Ambassador, D. Brent-Hardt chided the Government of Guyana over what he calls the “censorship
of the media”. The ambassador during a reception to celebrate World Press Freedom Day said that back in 2012 he had expressed his surprise at knowing that Guyana alone had complete state monopoly of the radio. He said that in other countries with their ubiquitous “call in shows” was a vital public forum, but in Guyana there is no such counterpart.
“Two years later it’s certainly disappointing that radio in Guyana still falls short of offering an open public square for debate and discussion.”
The Government had accused the Ambassador of meddling in local politics.
According to Ramjattan yesterday, the control exerted by the administration is so complete that the state-owned radio and television company, National Communications Network (NCN) has virtually sidelined the Opposition, giving them little or no airtime.
Opposition Leader, David Granger, has even chronicled almost 100 instance of bias by the Government Information Agency (GINA).
During the recent budget debate, the issue again came to the fore as an unhappy Opposition voted against more than $200M budgeted for both GINA and NCN this year.
The spotlight was thrown on the airwaves when news broke that former President Bharrat Jagdeo, in one of his last acts in office in 2011, approved 11 applications for radio licences.
This was despite a standing agreement for no new licences until broadcasting regulations and the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA), the body that was supposed to oversee the application process.
Jagdeo’s best friend, Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop of New GPC, 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. Another licence was issued to NTN Channel 69, a known supporter of the Government.
Several major media outlets that had applied for years were overlooked. These include applications from Kaieteur News, Stabroek News, Capitol News, HBTV 9 and CNS 6.
The media houses were also told to submit fresh applications.
GNBA, chaired by former Minister of Human Services, Bibi Shadick, was set to meet late last year on the “new” licences but this meeting is till to be realised.
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