GNBA gives short notice for added feature to newscasts

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…broadcasters shocked, furious over announcement

GNBA Chairman Leslie Sobers

The Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) on Friday announced that all broadcasting agencies must have at least one newscast which caters for persons who are differently-abled.

According to the GNBA Chairman, Leslie Sobers, broadcasting agencies will be required to have an inset on the newscast with persons using sign language, to cater for persons with hearing disabilities.

He also noted that closed caption may also be used to cater for such persons.

Sobers said these provisions are being imposed as the entity seeks to have an equitable access of information to persons regardless of their circumstances.

As explained by him, the GNBA is working to develop a policy framework by February 2019, with the goal of encouraging broadcasters nationally to allow for greater accessibility to information for the differently abled.

While acquainting his audience on the matter, he noted, “It is quite clear that the world of broadcasting is changing with new channels and content producers transforming the media landscape and with the impending digital changeover, what also needs to change is how we cater for the information needs of Guyanese; in particular, those with disabilities”.

It was here that the Chairman quoted the section of the law, which states that provisions should be made for such persons. “Section 26 of the Persons with Disabilities Act Chapter 36:05 says ‘that within 10 years of the coming into operation of the Act or a later date, the Minister may prescribe, the person in charge of every national television station shall provide sign language inset or subtitles in at least one newscast daily and special programmes covering events of national significance”.

He was keen to note that broadcasters, who fail to meet this requirement commits an offence and will be liable to a fine of $100,000 and imprisonment for six months.

He however, did not comment on whether there was consultations with local broadcasters on the matter and who will stand the extra cost for the additional feature.

“All broadcasters are therefore bound by law to ensure that somebody is doing sign language on at least one newscast per day,” he added.

Sobers was at the time giving a presentation at GNBA’s Broadcasters’ Engagement and Christmas Luncheon at Herdmanston Lodge, Peter Rose Street, Queenstown, Georgetown.

It was explained by the Chairman that this Act came into being in 2012, which means all broadcasters should be compliant by 2022 in keeping with the 10 year-period.

The Broadcasting Agency is adamant that persons with disabilities face challenges when it comes to accessing information, employment, education and entertainment, among other areas which can be mitigated with the implementation of this law.

Sobers was sure to include that just about 50,000 people comprise Guyana’s differently abled population. Of this population, 9.1 per cent or 4406 people suffer from hearing impediment. Moreover 30 per cent or 14,525 persons, he noted, suffer from visual impairment.

“If one thinks carefully about those numbers, one can imagine that persons with disabilities can make significant differences in certain spheres,” the Chairman asserted.

According to him, technologies are available to help persons who are visually impaired understand what is happening on television, although such is expensive.

While the intentions of the Agency may be for good, many broadcasters have already complained of this move, citing little or no consultation on the matter was done.

Many broadcasters on Friday said that the exorbitant fees that are already demanded will now be compounded with the cost to add this new feature to their newscast.

While several agreed that indeed persons who are differently-abled should be carted for, they however noted that there should be a reduction in the yearly GNBA fees to compensate for this stipulation.

Although, Sobers, quoted sections of the law on the matter, some broadcasters are furious over the move by the GNBA.

This media group was told that the GNBA has not consulted with local broadcasters on the matter, with some saying they are not even aware of any such law.

Several broadcasters said that were shocked by the announcement by Sobers and will be seeking legal advice on the matter.

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