While the President is yet to assent to the Broadcast Bill 2017, the Government is holding firm to its position that it will not hold consultations with broadcasters who will be affected, before the Bill becomes law.
Broadcasters have been clamouring for meaningful consultations on the Bill, as some of its clauses have been deemed ‘oppressive’. The political Opposition and international agencies have also expressed the need for consultations.
However, during a post-Cabinet press briefing on Friday, Minister of State Joseph Harmon ruled out Government consulting with broadcasters before the Bill becomes law.
“No there is no possibility (for) that. I mean you’re speaking to the quality of the consultation, not to the fact that there were consultations. It is not for me in any capacity to say that the National Assembly, having debated and voted on this matter, that any individual can come and say stop it.”
“Unless something is egregiously (wrong), is not in keeping with the law, which the Attorney General (Basil Williams) can advise that this is not in keeping with the law and (he) advises to that effect. But as far as I am aware, nothing like that has taken place.”
Broadcasters had called on the Government to delay passing the Bill until meaningful consultations were held with them. A letter to this effect was dispatched to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo. The Minister, however, argued that consultations were indeed carried out.
“There’s always consultation. And so the Broadcast Bill was subject to that type of consultation. Once it goes through the National Assembly (and) the debate was completed, the Clerk of the National Assembly (Sherlock Issacs) submits the draft for consent to my office.”
He noted that it is then sent to the Attorney General, who then verifies “that the law is the true reflection of what happened in the National Assembly and it then goes as a recommendation for (the President) to assent.”
However, the political Opposition has for some time argued that the broadcast bill infringes on a number of legal, constitutional rights of broadcasters. For one, the Opposition has said that the Bill threatens proprietary rights guaranteed in Article 142 of the Constitution.
The article guarantees that the private property of individuals could not be acquired by the State without adequate compensation being paid to the owner of the property. In addition, the Opposition has argued that the Bill tramples on Article 146 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression.
It is on this basis, and the fact that the Guyana Press Association, Reporters Without Borders and other local and international groups opposed the Bill, that the Opposition had promised to mount a challenge in court.
Part two of the Bill sets out that broadcast agencies will be mandated to broadcast public service programmes for a total of up to one hour daily. Broadcast agencies will be airing these public service programmes free of cost and as requested by the Government between 06:00h and 22:00h.
The Bill also states that the GNBA reserves the right to direct a broadcaster to broadcast emergency notices for any length of time. This can even be done during peak or prime advertising time.
A broadcaster will have the right to file a complaint with the GNBA within 24 hours of being asked to broadcast a programme free of cost if, in the agency’s judgment, it is not considered a public service broadcast programme.
But there is a warning for broadcasters daring to oppose the legislation: the Bill states that any broadcaster the GNBA finds to have “arbitrarily refused” to broadcast a public service broadcast programme without lodging a complaint has committed an offence.
Even before its passage, broadcasters have already come out in opposition to the new proposed measures. Using its seat majority, however, the Government had forged ahead with its passage over the Opposition from the other side of the House.