The People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) on Wednesday, disclosed plans to challenge the controversial Broadcast Amendment Bill in court.
Government with a one seat majority passed the Bill, last week, in the National Assembly. President David Granger however, is yet to assent to it.
According to PPP Parliamentarian and former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, it is the party’s belief, as well as the belief of major international press bodies that the bill infringes upon the freedom of the press.
For that reason, as well as many others- including the fact that the Legislation provides for Government to be able to seize private property without compensation, the decision to take the matter to the High Court was made, Nandlall said.
“The second set of allegations will have to do with the Bill not guaranteeing the issuance of a licence, period, and thirdly a re-issuance of the licence under the same spectrum breach. All of that is also deprivation of property as well as violation of the constitutional right and freedom of the press,” he told media operatives on Wednesday during a press conference at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
The Section of the Bill that deals with the issuance of licences states that “Every person carrying on a broadcasting service immediately before the commencement of this Act for which a licence had been previously issued shall apply within thirty days of the commencement of this Act for a licence in accordance with the provisions of the Principal Act as amended by this Act for the continuation of the broadcasting service.”
Nandlall also said that the other aspect of the legal challenge will be based on the mandatory imposition of one hour of free Government service on private broadcasters platforms.
The legal luminary said that such a move by the government would, among others, be an infringement on the “the people’s constitutional right to property because you’re taking away basically one hour of their time from them that they can otherwise sell.”
According to the amended Bill, “Every broadcasting agency shall broadcast public service programmes in the following manner – (a) for a total of up to sixty minutes per day; (b) between 6:00 hrs. and 22:00 hrs; and (c) free of cost.”
Since being laid in the National Assembly, concerns about the far-reaching powers of the Broadcast (Amendment) Bill 2017 have been raised.
In condemning the Bill, the Opposition had urged broadcasters not to sit idly by but that they should seek recourse through the courts.
Private broadcasting companies have since spoke out against the Bill while several of them have written to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, requesting an audience so that some amount of consultations can be broached on the Bill since none were kept before the Bill was passed in Parliament.
Since its passage in the National Assembly, International press bodies such as the International Press Institute (IPI) and Journalist Without Borders (RSF) have issued strongly worded statements calling on President not to assent to the Bill, but rather allow for meaningful consultations to be held so the contentious areas raised by the local stakeholders can be addressed.
Meanwhile, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce & Industry (GCCI) has joined in registering concerns with areas of the Bill.
According to the GCCI, as it pertains to the 30-day period for broadcasters to renew their licences “this language creates an abrupt process which could see some broadcasters, entrepreneurs having to wind up their operations within an unreasonable amount of time and could lead to abuse. Some of these entrepreneurs have invested into equipment and have bank debt securing their investment, therefore they would need a more reasonable timeframe and an appeals process that will allow for fairness in the process.”
Moreover, the GCCI said the amendment mandating private broadcasters to air one hour of free programme time violates the “notion of Freedom of Expression.”
“It is important to note that in the Constitution of Guyana, Freedom of Expression, which as James Madison, one of the architects of the US Constitution posited, is a free trade in ideas that is necessary for servicing the civic needs of a democratic polity, is guaranteed and Broadcasters once licensed can be seen as public trustees of the spectrum, therefore to require an intrusion, with Government chosen programming violates this notion of Freedom of Expression” GCCI said.
The Chamber is also appealing to the President not to assent to the Bill in its current format. They instead suggest that it be sent to a Select Committee and that the Prime Minister hold consultations with the stakeholders in the industry with a view to amending the Bill so that it could reflect the varying inputs.