Aug 03, 2017 News
The Guyana Press Association (GPA) will be seeking legal advice on proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Act. According to an official statement from the GPA yesterday concerning the amendments, the changes to the Act introduces an ‘unwarranted’ Programme Manager by the state in the daily schedules of radio and television stations.
This amendment is being proposed for Part Two of the Act titled ‘Programmes’ dealing specifically with Public Service Programmes.
According to the proposed amendment, “Every broadcasting agency shall broadcast public service programmes in the following manner: (a) for a total of up to sixty minutes (60) per day; (b) between 06:00Hrs and 22:00Hrs; and (c) free of cost.”
It must be made clear that the amendments does not state that the 60 minutes will be taken at once but suggests that the total time reserved for Public Service Programmes daily will not exceed 60 minutes in totality. Therefore, these broadcasts can be distributed within the time period highlighted above.
Further, it is proposed that the broadcasting agency may designate separate time slots for any public announcement which is urgent and of national significance and for repeating such announcement.
The proposal also asks of privately-owned broadcasting agencies to provide the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) with a fixed schedule or a rotation of timeslots which the particular agency intends to set aside to broadcast the public service programmes.
After this information is provided to the GNBA, according to the proposed amendments, the broadcasting authority may direct the broadcasting agency to adjust or vary its schedule for public service programmes so as to ensure that the distribution is spread across various time slots.
Based on the proposed changes to the Act, the 60 minutes for public service programmes will be used to air addresses to the nation by the President and emergency notices or disaster warnings issued by the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), The Guyana Police Force (GPF), the Guyana Fire Service (GFS), the Minister of Public Health and the Government.
In the event that the private agencies do not agree that the message being asked to broadcast is a public service programme, that entity can file a complaint with the GNBA within 24 hours.
Additionally, the proposed amendments seek to create an offence when any broadcasting agency found by the GNBA to have arbitrarily refused to broadcast such a programme without a complaint being determined by the GNBA.
Meanwhile, the GPA is contending that the provision for the allocation of 60 minutes for public service programmes will disrupt and violate contractual obligations that stations will have with advertisers and programme sponsors.
The GPA’s statement, undersigned by its President, Neil Marks, said “Understandably, private broadcasters should play roles during emergencies and disasters including matters of public health, but the GPA opposes the actual allocation of times or the need to inform the authority about this or for the authority to dictate time slots if it does not agree with those allocated by the stations.”
The Press Association said that it strongly opposes the government of Guyana seeking to redefine what constitutes ‘public service programmes’. According to the GPA, this redefinition is in direct contradiction and violation of the letter and spirit of the definition of public service broadcasting as is laid down by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) of which Guyana is a member.
The GPA quoted in its statement what exactly ‘public broadcasting’ is according to UNESCO, which read, “Public broadcasting is a forum where ideas should be expressed freely, where information, opinions and criticisms can circulate. This is possible only if the broadcaster is independent, thereby, allowing the freedom of public broadcasting to be maintained against commercial or political influence.
“If the information provided by the public broadcaster was influenced by the government, people are less likely to believe the content. Likewise, if the public broadcaster’s programming were designed for commercial ends, people would not understand why they are being asked to finance a service providing programming that is not substantially different from those provided by commercial broadcasters.”
The GPA went further to state that one would shudder to think that Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, would have given bad advice to the President and the Cabinet as to what constitutes ‘public service programmes’.
Nagamootoo is in-charge of the National Communications Network (NCN), Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL) that publishes the Guyana Chronicle Newspaper, the Guyana Information Agency (GINA) now combined with the Department of Public Information (DPI) and the GNBA.
To properly address its concerns, the GPA said that it will be seeking legal advice from both local and international experts and will also be raising the issue with its affiliates inclusive of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers and the International Press Institute.
Further, the GPA expressed that it stands in solidarity with local broadcasters on the issue and will be using further legal advice to convince the government of the need to halt or reverse the process to implement the amendments to the Act.
The association said that stopping the process is of great importance considering the severe consequence the amendments pose to press freedom in Guyana and the commercial viability of private radio and television stations.
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