2017 Broadcast Amendment Bill: Media owners, operators dispatch letter seeking audience with PM, awaiting response

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Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo
Following the meeting that was held with a number of media proprietors and operators who raised reservations with the recently tabled Broadcast (Amendment) Bill 2017 that was laid in the National Assembly by Prime Minister (PM) Moses Nagamootoo, and the calls made by the said group for an audience with the PM, this publication was reliably informed that the group has already dispatched their formal letter and are awaiting the PM’s response. 
The group of privately owned operators, knowing that the Bill could be passed before the end of the week, had signaled their intentions to seek an audience with the PM and urged that the Bill be deferred until meaningful consultations can be held.
According to the group, having not been consulted to date or during the preparation of the Bill, they are hoping that the authorities would afford them opportunity for consultation now, before this important piece of legislation is passed.
Moreover, having examined the proposed bill, they have concerns in regard to its constitutionality, and they are seeking clarifications for their concerns.
Their reservations over the 2017 Amendment Bill were premised on the “negative impact it could have on the sustainability of operations with regard to the licencing fee structure, the imposition on property and the infringement on the freedom to determine broadcast content.”
Some of the privately owned operators of the outlined group have availed themselves to the media and have since posited that, among the contentious areas listed, the most worrying aspects of the amendment Bill are the need for all the broadcasters to reapply for their licenses within 30 days of the Bill coming into effect, in addition to the Bill containing provisions that compel the private media to air Government broadcasts free of cost for one  hour daily as requested by the Government between the hours of 06:00am and 10:00pm.

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

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.”

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