Aug 10, 2017 News
By Murtland Haley
The People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) will be challenging the Broadcast (Amendment) Bill in the law courts. This was confirmed by PPP/C Member of Parliament and former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall yesterday.
Nandlall, also a former Minister of Legal Affairs, said this during a press conference at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition in the company of former Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee.
Nandlall could not say exactly when the PPP, which is the Parliamentary Opposition, will file this challenge. However, he did explain some of the grounds on which the challenge will be made.
“One, that when it (the Bill) terminates the licenses, it confiscates private property without payment of compensation as is guaranteed by Article 142 (of Guyana’s Constitution).”
Further, Nandlall said that the provisions in the Bill also take away ‘Freedom of the Press’ because people stand the chance of not being able to broadcast again.
Thirdly, he said that the Bill does not guarantee a reissuance of the broadcast license and fourthly, does not guarantee that the reissuance of the license will have the same spectrum reach. “All of that is also deprivation of property as well as the constitutional right of Freedom of the Press.”
Meanwhile, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) issued a statement yesterday calling on President David Granger not to assent to the Bill in its current format, but instead to suggest that it be sent to a Select Committee.
The GCCI said that it took this position following consultation with several members of the Chamber that are in the media industry. The private sector body said that there are two particularly contentious portions of the Bill.
“The first is Section 9 (1) which reads, “Every person carrying on a broadcasting service immediately before the commencement of this Act, for which a licence had been previously issued, shall apply within thirty days of the commencement of this Act for a licence in accordance with the provisions of the Principal Act as amended by this Act for the continuation of the broadcasting service.””
Interpreting the section, the GCCI said that the language used creates an abrupt process which could see some broadcasters and entrepreneurs having to wind up their operations within an unreasonable amount of time and could possibly lead to abuse.
“Some of these entrepreneurs have invested into equipment and have bank debt securing their investment; therefore they would need a more reasonable timeframe and an appeals process that will allow for fairness in the process.”
Further, the GCCI said that the second section of the Bill that sparked concern is in the First Schedule which reads, “Every broadcasting agency shall broadcast public service programmes in the following manner – (a) for a total of up to sixty minutes per day; (b) between 6:00 hrs. and 22:00 hrs; and (c) free of cost.”
The Chamber said that the ‘Freedom of Expression’ is a guaranteed right by the Constitution of Guyana and those broadcasters once licensed can be seen as public trustees of the spectrum granted.
“Therefore to require an intrusion, with Government chosen programming violates this notion of Freedom of Expression.”
In addition to appealing to the President not to assent to the Bill, the GCCI is asking that the Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, holds consultations with stakeholders in the industry and consider amending the language in the bill so that it is more amenable to the many variegated views.
During last Friday’s debate on the Bill in the National Assembly, members of parliament on the government’s side posited that the amendments will not impair the media or be burdensome on broadcasters.
This was chiefly the argument of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo that had presented the Bill to the Assembly. He said that the amendments will serve to clarify the law and create a “freer” environment in which broadcasters can operate. He added that the amendments will also limit the wide and sweeping powers of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA).
Further, Minister of Public Telecommunications, Catherine Hughes had argued that the amendments are not draconian as opposition members would want the public to believe. She said that those broadcasters that have complaints can approach the GNBA and voice their objections.
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