As it pertains to reapplying, the Amended Bill mandates that any licenced entity carrying out broadcast services immediately before the act went into effect would have no choice but to reapply within thirty days for a licence, in accordance with the amended law. “Where a person fails to make an application for a licence within the time specified, or where an application for a licence is not granted by (GNBA), he shall immediately cease to carry on the broadcasting service,” Section Nine, subsection three of the Bill states.
Furthermore, failing to cease operations if they are not granted a new licence by the GNBA would cause to be imposed on that broadcaster, on summary conviction, a fine of $1M and imprisonment for one year. In addition, all machinery and equipment used for broadcasting by the entity can be seized.
Observers have also registered their concerns over the move to compel private media broadcasters to air free Government content, some of them citing that the move would see freedom of expression, speech and the press being curtailed.
Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, in addressing the issue had refereed the bill as an “expropriation of property and time” – adamantly contending that even when the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was in office, it would not have dared make such a Bill law, even though TV stations had refused to air programmes the then Government was willing to pay for.
Touching on the 24-hour time frame that a broadcasting entity has to register with the Guyana Broadcasting Authority (GBA) and its objection to carrying a particular broadcast, Jagdeo noted that a “win-win” situation has been created for the Government because, even if the GBA rules that the broadcast is not a public service announcement, the only outcome would be that the Government has to pay for its airing.
Jagdeo urged broadcasters not to sit idly by and allow the Government, through its one-seat majority, to get its way with the passage of the Bill; but broadcasters should seek recourse through the courts.
Some of the private broadcasters have already expressed publicly their intent to go this route if the Bill is passed as is, but the group had said that it would seek an audience with the PM first and “are hoping that in the interest of democracy and freedom of expression, the authorities would understand the magnitude of the impact the Bill in its current form could have on the future of television and radio broadcasting in Guyana.”
The group of private operators in a released statement had said that their desire “is for a Bill that can be reached through consensus.”