GPA calls for waiver on TV, radio licence fees

President Dr Irfaan Ali and GPA President Nazima Raghubir
President Dr Irfaan Ali and GPA President Nazima Raghubir

With the local media fraternity, like the rest of the world, battling to survive the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, President of the Guyana Press Association (GPA), Nazima Raghubir, has called on the Government to waive the hefty licensing fees that television and radio broadcasters are required to pay.

“Due to lingering adverse impact of the pandemic on revenues due to the diminished advertising and sponsorship, the Guyana Press Association publicly endorses a request by the Guyana Media Uniters Broadcasters to the Broadcasting Authority, the telecommunications agencies and the Government of Guyana for a waiver of all licences’ fees. We urge the Prime Minister and the President to favourably consider this, having the law amended temporarily to facilitate such a waiver,” Raghubir stated during her remarks at a Media Brunch hosted by President Dr Irfaan Ali at State House on Sunday.

The GPA President lauded the PPP/C Administration for continuing this event, which was initiated by its predecessor and is aimed at fostering better relations between members of the media and Government.

According to Raghubir, it has been a trying few months for members of the media in Guyana that dates back to December 2018, which continued into years and months filled with court cases, elections campaign, a five-month-long election and a transition of a new Government.

“The latter two were while trying to maintain our safety and sanity during a pandemic… The pandemic has challenged the media in more ways than one… Notably, in this instance, the pandemic has exposed media houses to financial instability, salary cuts and even resignations and retirement,” she noted.

The GPA President added that the economic viability of the media is being threatened with shrinking finances and like the rest of the world, the local media fraternity has had to adapt to special conditions to maintain viability and earn in order to remain active.

“The advertising pie of which most of us depend on continues to shrink, threatening the existence of true and independent media in a growing democracy, and with the pandemic, that pie has virtually disappeared. Few of us have managed to diversify to ride the wave of those changes. Even in the pandemic, of some of us, we’ve missed the tide. In 2020, I pointed out that whilst solutions may lie in implementing better business models, we implore advertisers – State and private – to consider what a true, independent media can mean for this country,” Raghubir asserted.

To this end, the GPA President also called for an even playing field in the allocation of State ads to “accredited and recognised” media houses across the various platforms, that is, online, television, radio and newspaper.

She further spent time lamenting on the role of “true and independent” media operators as opposed to “social media commentators”.

“Media houses are not the same as social media commentators,” Raghubir contended, while adding “We have different duties and ethics, and provide a service unmatched. Further, no administration must be seen as funnelling taxpayers’ dollars to media squatters who do nothing more than diminish the quality of the media and by extension under-educate and under-inform the public to the long-term detriment and holistic role to develop the society.”
The Press Association Head went on to outline that the Sustainable Development Goals, which Guyana has signed onto, are not achievable without a properly informed and educated nation.

“Our roles are much different than that of social media commentators. We are to provide factual, unbiased information to our readers and audience. This means we have to put our fact-checking journalism skills to use. Ask questions, clarify, research, ensure there is a right of reply and provide that balance. The media have shown over the decades, it understands its role. There have been some challenges, no doubt, but we understand what needs to be done and we’ve applied ourselves as we’ve thrived to adapt,” Raghubir, a senior journalist herself, posited.

Meanwhile, the GPA President also implored the Government to have more frequent engagements with the press. Noting that these engagements are of utmost importance in informing the public about critical issues, she called for the return of the post-Cabinet press briefings which provided the country with a needed update of the country’s internal affairs.
Raghubir also requested for health officials to be more interactions with the media so they can correctly raise awareness of the pandemic that continues to affect the lives of Guyanese.

Additionally, the Press Association Head further expressed the need for Government to facilitate key field trips to the various border towns so as to be better informed and in the know when reporting on related issues.

“Most of us remain Georgetown-based. For instance, many of us may not have travelled to Regions One, Seven or Nine… We seek the Government and your intervention, as Commander-in-Chief to facilitate the media’s visit to some of the border locations. This we believe will provide the media with a better understanding of some of these locations we often report on,” she noted.

Moreover, Raghubir also urged the Government to ensure that there is greater awareness about the roles and functions of the Commission of Information, which she noted is a much-needed mechanism in Guyana’s emerging democracy.

The GPA President further noted that the organisation is always aiming to set a high standard for the media in the country and has thus far this year, facilitated virtual training on a number of key issues such as reporting on sexual offences, understanding and reporting on the judicial system and more recently, held a sensitisation session on the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy.