Controversial Broadcast Bill: President cites interior access to public information as reason for changes


President David Granger has maintained Government’s stance on the controversial Broadcast Bill and has called on those who criticise the move to see that the objective is towards the benefit of all Guyanese.

President David Granger

The Parliamentary Opposition recently said that it was prepared to challenge the Bill in court, however, the Head of State has called on critics, to fully understand the reasons behind Government moving in that direction.

According to him, it is Government’s objective to ensure that every Guyanese, whether they live on the coastland or the interior regions, have access to public information.

“We are prepared to listen to the comments and criticisms. But we must always bear in mind that Guyana is a thinly populated country, the population density is just about a few persons per square kilometre. Most of the media houses are concentrated on the coastland and Georgetown. There are huge areas of the country that do not have media coverage. We need to correct that,” The Head of State said.

He stressed that there will most likely be an “information deficit” if the media remain central in the capital city and its environs and are not covering certain issues.

President Granger said a lot of thought was put into the drafting of the bill, and that government is prepared to listen to any comments and criticism. However, those criticisms must be given with a clear understanding of what government is seeking to do.

He admitted that there are some elements of the bill that have caused some concern, but he asked again that the critics be more aware of the peculiar nature of Guyana and ensure that all communities are given access to information. The President said he supports the private media as he supports the freedom of information, but noted that Government also has an obligation to ensure that all corners of the country is well informed about what is happening in the various sectors.

He said Government has begun a program of establishing broadcasting services starting from Region one (Barima Waini) to Region Nine (Upper Takatu/Upper Essequibo).

“This is the way we have to go. We have to think about the function of public information,” he said continuing that it is not Government’s intention to prevent any media from fulfilling its constitutional role, but that Government has a responsibility of ensuring the security of the country.

“We have an obligation and I would like to ask the critics of the broadcast bill to see both sides of the picture,” he said.

Government had come under fire from stakeholders, including the International Press Association, about its mode of operation regarding the bill, which was passed in the National Assembly recently. Part of the bill mandates that all television and radio stations provide one hour for the broadcast of Public Service Announcements (PSA).

Opposition Member of Parliament Anil Nandlall said recently that the PPP would challenge the matter in court, since the Bill tramples on the right to press freedom.

He said the matter would be challenged on several grounds, but particularly on ground of the licence having the same spectrum reach. The other aspect of the legal challenge will be based on the mandatory imposition of one hour of Government service on private broadcasters’ media.

The parliamentary Opposition has maintained that the Bill in its current form is ‘unconstitutional’, and will have several implications on private broadcasters. Broadcasters have been advised to challenge the Bill in court, because it would have far reaching repercussions that could harm their businesses.

Apart from obtaining a conservatory order, Nandlall said, those who file the court action could seek damages for breach of constitutional rights.

Private broadcast companies have since come out in criticism of the Government over the proposed bill, and have asked for deferral of its debate and passage.

The Guyana Press Association has also criticised the Government over the proposed Broadcast Amendment Bill and asked for the deferral.

Additionally, several international organisations including International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), called Reporters Without Borders, also urged the President not to assent to this controversial bill without “consultations with broadcasters, in order to take into account their recommendations”.



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