Aug 21, 2017 News
There is hardly any likelihood that Government would recall recently passed broadcast legislations.
Despite being passed earlier this month in the National Assembly, the Broadcast (Amendment) Bill 2017 is not being allowed to be easily signed off by President David Granger, making it law.
This is because the Opposition and a number of broadcasters, including television and radio stations, have objected to new, tougher measures to ensure they toe the line.
Speaking at the post-Cabinet press briefing on Friday at the NCN studios, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, made it clear that consultations were held.
While admitting there could be questions about the quality of consultations, he said that unless there are some “egregious” findings that the legislations passed by the National Assembly are not in keeping with the law, it is highly unlikely that it can be withdrawn at this time.
Already, the legislations have been sent to the Attorney General, Minister Basil Williams, who will then forward to the President for his assent.
According to Harmon, the administration has a policy of consultations on any legislation that is to come before the House for debate.
The Broadcast Bill was subjected to that type of consultations, he stressed.
Earlier this month, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) described the legislation as a flawed amendment to a law that was flawed in the first place.
Joining calls for President Granger to hold off on signing the legislation into law, the business body said it has noted the increasing concerns over the passage of the legislations.
“The Bill will now amend the Broadcast Bill 2011 which itself, though it did not invite much public attention at its passing, is, in the opinion of the Commission, far from adequate in a number of critical aspects in delivering a Broadcasting Authority and Law meeting certain fundamental provisions for administering and regulating broadcasting in our country,” PSC said.
PSC had joined a number of local and international bodies that have been calling for the bill not to be signed.
The Guyana Press Association, too, among other bodies, criticized the bill, warning against measures to force television and radio stations to air public service advertisements as an abuse of authority.
Also criticizing the bill and the lack of consultations were the respected International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders.
The Opposition has since announced it is legally challenging the bill.
According to the PSC, the previous Bill of 2011 had established a Broadcasting Authority, entirely composed of persons appointed solely by the President, completely compromising the independence of the authority.
“The precedent has long been set in the United Kingdom, Canada and the majority of Commonwealth Countries and in the USA, to ensure that, even though Broadcasting Authorities are appointed by the government, in practice there is extensive and widespread consultation with the political opposition and civil society as to their composition.”
The business advocacy body said that this new bill “offensively” provides for the cancellation of all current broadcasting licences in place immediately before the commencement of the Act, forcing operating licencees out of business with no option but to reapply for a licence in a totally unreasonable period of time.
“The Commission wishes to point out that these licences were issued under the law, however bad the law, to broadcasters who have made considerable investment and accepted in good faith that they will not be arbitrarily cancelled without cause.”
In fact, the Amendment to the Broadcast Bill has been introduced by the government without any serious prior consultation with Broadcast Licencees, never mind public hearings.
“The Commission finds this to be totally unacceptable and a complete departure from internationally accepted norm and practice.”
PSC noted that the amendment of the Broadcast Bill also, again without any consultation, provides for the Broadcasting Authority to enforce the provision of broadcasting time on licencees of a minimum of one hour per day at times which include prime time commercial broadcasts for the purpose of “public service programmes”, whatever that may be, entirely at the discretion of the Prime Minister who, in any event, has ultimate direction over broadcasting content under the 2011 Bill.
Attention was placed on the issue of television, cable and radio licences after it became known in 2011 that former President Bharrat Jagdeo issued several to close friends and party members, at the same time sidelining established media houses.
Despite tough laws, a number of broadcasters were reportedly breaching requirements, including paying fees on a timely manner.
Already, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who has responsibilities for broadcasting in the country, has met with the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority, requesting updates on operators who are in breach.
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