Mar 12, 2016 News
More than four years after several radio, television and cable licences were doled out under questionable circumstances to close friends of the Bharrat Jagdeo administration, there appears to be significant moves to correct the situation.
Yesterday, Government announced that the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) has committed to speed up the processing of applications for a number of media houses and others.
The applications have been pending for years now with the GNBA, under the last administration, appearing to have dragged its foot in the processing. In so doing, the previous Government allowed a number of operators to cement their place with some of them even refusing to pay their annual licensing fees.
A new board was appointed under the chairmanship of Leonard Craig, after the David Granger administration took office last May following early general elections.
Within the last few days, the authority which regulates the airwaves, has met with television broadcasters, warning of the need for them to toe the line with regards to programming.
A review of the fees is underway with disclosures that many broadcasters, including those granted licences by Jagdeo, owed millions of dollars, placing the authority in a financial bind.
Yesterday, Craig was present at the National Communications Network (NCN) along with Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo for the commissioning of the entity’s satellite east station multimedia teleport.
Speaking with reporters, Craig disclosed that earlier the day, he and other members of the GNBA board met with PM Nagamootoo.
“…We gave an undertaking that we will speed up the issuance of new licences based on applications that we currently have on file,” the GNBA official disclosed.
Currently, the authority has over 25 applications for television, radio and cable licences in file.
Craig did not immediately disclose the names of the applicants.
However, it is known that several of them are prominent media houses, including Kaieteur News and Capitol News.
While the board of GNBA has not set a timeline for the issuance of the licences, Craig when questioned, said he is hoping the process could take between six to eight weeks.
Also discussed with the PM were proposed changes to the current fees charged by GNBA to operators.
The annual fees for television stations will likely go down. There will not be much change for radio operations.
Community radio stations will likely, because of their very nature of non-profit operations, be charged a flat fee of $150,000.
Craig insisted that the authority has the capacity to deal with the increased work likely as a result of changes in the country’s broadcast sector.
Meanwhile, PM Nagamootoo said that idea of issuing more licences is to create competition.
The PM, who came from a media background, said that he has urged GNBA’s board to pull out all stops to process the applications on file.
“I urge them to refresh our channels. I urge them to provide new vigor in what appeared to be a very putrid…and contaminated televisions (operations), particularly the television scenario in Guyana.”
Nagamootoo pointed out that licences were granted to persons who never held a camera in their hands or have track records in broadcasting.
There were abuse in the programmes and “where we have not love, not unity but the putrid air, the scent of hate and division and rancor.”
Nagamootoo said that he is not calling for the closure of the stations that were wrongfully granted licences. This was the job of GNBA, he added.
“I am just saying I would rather see that more stations come on board with people who have the wherewithal…”
The official added that the entrance of new operators will come with a competitive edge and possible cheaper cost for services. It could also see better technology being introduced.
The issue of licences has seen accusations being leveled against operators, over time, with the previous GNBA board not even collecting the fees it is owed.
The radio licences issue has been a burning one, sparking protests and criticisms from local and international bodies for the sidelining of prominent media houses like Kaieteur News and Stabroek News.
Several frequencies went to close friends of the party and even to the sister of former PPP Minister of Natural Resources, Robert Persaud. Five were given also to the publisher of The Mirror, the PPP newspaper.
Independent media entities, which were sidelined, were requested to submit fresh applications.
Indeed, Jagdeo’s close friend, Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, was the beneficiary of five frequencies.
Former US Ambassador, D. Brent Hardt, had said that he believed that the radio licence issue is a critical one that should be examined again by the administration.
President Ramotar had promised to examine the issue but three years after entering office, there was no word from him.
The former Opposition, now forming the coalition Government, has also been complaining that it has been targeted in a hostile manner by the state media, including the Government Information Agency (GINA) and state TV’s National Communications Network (NCN), TVG Channel 28 and Guyana Times- the last two are media outfits with close links to Jagdeo and the ruling party.
Places like Berbice and Linden were subjected to news coming from the state-owned NCN.
In East Berbice, only Ramroop was allowed to extend his signals.
He was one of several television broadcasters summoned to the GNBA meeting recently.
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