Broadcast Amendment Bill: Media owners, operators raise concerns

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-Seeking audience with PM for meaningful consultations

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and President David Granger

A number of media proprietors and operators met on Monday to discuss the potential ramifications of the Broadcast (Amendment) Bill 2017, recently tabled in the National Assembly by Prime Minister (PM) & First Vice President Moses Nagamootoo.

In a statement issued late Monday evening, operators said their primary concerns were the negative impact the Bill could have on sustainability of operations with regard to the licensing fee structure, the imposition on property, and the infringement on freedom to determine broadcast content.

To this end, the group is in the process of writing the Prime Minister, seeking an audience so their related concerns can be made known. Having been made aware that the Bill could be passed before the end of the week, the group is urging that its passage 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.

Group members believe that this bill’s impact on freedom, livelihood and jobs compels the decency of having consultations with the allowance for inputs.

According to the operators, having examined the proposed bill, they have concerns in regard to its constitutionality, and they are seeking clarifications for their concerns.

The group is of the firm belief that the meeting requested, and calls for a deferral of the passage of this bill, would provide opportunities for their concerns to be addressed.

They are hoping, their release has stated, 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”.

As such, their desire is for “a Bill that can be reached through consensus.”

The Broadcast (Amendment) Bill 2017 was laid in the National Assembly on Thursday, but concerns have been raised about its far-reaching powers ever since it was revealed to contain provisions that compel private media to air Government broadcasts.

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, during a press conference on Friday last, zeroed in on the bill — which he referred to 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.

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

Touching on the 24-hour time frame that a broadcasting entity has to register with the Guyana Broadcasting Authority (GBA) 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.

Reapply

Revoking the 2014 broadcasting regulations, the Act also puts those broadcasters who are already licensed at the mercy of the authority.

It 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.

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.

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