As the debate on the merits of the Government’s proposed Amendments to the existing Broadcast Law wound down on Friday 4 August, 2017, Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes, gave it some people’s perspective. This is the first part of her address to the Parliamentary House.
This Amendment Bill further defines the powers and functions already existing under the
Broadcasting Act of 2011. It seeks to do four very important things:
The substantive Act of 2011, section 18(2)k, Laws of Guyana, says that the Broadcasting Authority requires licensees to “carry a certain percentage of Public Service Broadcast or Development Support Broadcast as public information deemed appropriate as a public service at no cost”.
Public service broadcast has always been mandatory. This Amendment Bill seeks to define what a “certain percentage” would be, and it has been proposed that it should be one in every 24 hours. This amounts to a mere 4% per day.
It is important to note that in most democratic countries of the world, broadcasting enterprises are required to set aside time for public service programming. For instance, the Trinidad & Tobago Telecommunications Act 2001/4 specifies, “The concessionaire shall, on a free-of-charge basis up to a limit of fourteen (14) hours per calendar week and thereafter … transmit any programme, announcement, information or other material which the Government may require to be transmitted as a matter of public interest … such material shall, up to a limit of one hour per day, be transmitted without accompanying advertisements”.
The people of Guyana own the airwaves in Guyana’s air space. Since they are the property of the people, then we the people deserve to have good programming that informs and educates us, and helps to keep us safe in emergency situations.
What is really diabolical and disingenuous is the Opposition behaving as if the concept of public service programming was just made up by this government with ulterior motives. The fact is that Public Service Programming is already a part of the Laws of Guyana, Broadcasting Act of 2011 which was piloted by the PPP government, and passed in Parliament when they had the majority of seats.
Moreover, the Opposition mischievously contends that private broadcasters will be “forced to air government propaganda”. Assuming (and it’s a wild assumption) that such a situation does arise, these proposed Amendments do give to every broadcaster the right to register a complaint/objection with the National Broadcasting Authority if s/he is of the opinion that the material s/he is asked to air does not constitute a public service. S/he also has the right to be heard.
ONLY IN EMERGENCIES
The opposition needs to be reminded that the Amendments specifically state, “up to sixty minutes”. That is the upper limit and its intent is for the time to be utilized only in the event of emergencies.
One example was the 2005 floods when more than six feet of water sat on the land on the East Coast Demerara for nearly two weeks. The national radio and television station, NCN, was off the air for awhile, and at that time it was vitally important for the Health Ministry to send messages to the people, particularly about Leptospirosis.
The electricity company had to get life-saving advisories to the residents who were trapped on the second floor of their homes since the ground floors and their electrical appliances were under water. GWI and the Civil Defence Commission had equally important information to send out, and everyone had to use privately-owned television stations for awhile.
It was a credit to GPL that they kept the power on throughout the ordeal. One TV station owner had devoted more than 10 hours of its broadcast day, for several days, to public messaging, showing videos, and even joining the distribution of food and sundries.
PRODUCTION IS GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSIBILITY
In most parts of the free world, private broadcasters produce their own programming, set their own logs. They work with specific requirements, e.g. a limited number of words for a 15, 30, 45 or 60 second advertisement or announcement, irrespective of its origin. Time is the broadcasters’ commodity. Even NCN, the nation’s station, works with strict adherence to time. Most stations employ script writers to produce quality messages with the right rhythm and wording. This will remain the forte of NCN, so the objections are moot!
I began my own career as a broadcaster and have worked extensively with both the public and private media. It is well known that it is no easy task to produce any TV or radio programme, commercial, PSA, or an hour-long programme that is on-message. That requires a lot of resources, skill and time. Therefore, I take umbrage with the accusation (a red herring) that these amendments would require private media houses to produce 60 minute programmes for the government.
It is not so incomprehensible that the Opposition objects to the article that prohibits hate speech, racial incitement and terror threats. In fact, the “learned gentleman” (Jagdeo) has been adamant that since the words “hate speech” and “racial incitement” appear in other pieces of legislation, then it is unnecessary to have them in these Broadcast Amendments. Well, we wish that the ‘learned gentleman’ would comprehend the fact that because the Laws of Guyana cover many, many subject areas, reiterating them in the Broadcast Act underlines their utter importance.
(To be continued)
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