Craig also revealed that the GNBA already has over 25 applications for licences in radio, TV and cable. Over the years, the previous administration faced great pressures over the state monopoly over radio which had been introduced by its predecessor, the PNC. When it finally gave in to those pressures in 2011, there were virulent accusations that the allocation of the radio spectrum was skewed to “insiders” of the government. In the TV area, licences were issue to cable and broadband operators and very quickly the broadcasting arena became very crowded.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, in charge of Information in the coalition government, announced that in reviewing the status of the Radio and TV broadcasting field, he would not be advising the revocation of any existing license but an expansion. This position was reiterated by Leonard Craig, the head of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA), which wields actual authority over the granting or revocation of broadcast licences.
The question that arises at this time is whether, in a thinly populated country like Guyana, it is feasible to move in that expansionary direction. The rationale offered for the expansion in operators is “competition” but there are other even more pertinent that must be addressed. The Broadcasting Act No 17 of 2011, sets out several criteria that are presently honoured more in the breach than not.
For instance it is claimed that one radio station has been acquired by a Trinidad corporation. However the Act states very clearly that Caricom citizens are not barred from ownership provided “there being reciprocal provisions governing broadcasting by the member state”. Trinidad does not allow foreign nationals to own broadcasting entities, period.
Then it is required that the broadcaster, “ensures wide geographic availability and accessibility of broadcasting services, especially to hinterland and border communities” (Broadcasting Policy – Sec 19 (a) 2). Most of the present broadcasters in both radio and TV would fail by this criterion and it is doubtful that most of the entities clamouring for licences would be able to also comply. It is very clear that the Georgetown market is the most attractive and it is this one that is going to be further fragmented into a veritable Tower of Babel. The government will have to be most careful in proceeding.
What might be more practical and feasible to to evaluate the present operators to adjudge whether they are in compliance with the Broadcast Act. For instance Sec 19 (2) (g) states that licencees should: “promote the growth of Guyanese expression through diversified programming that reflects Guyanese rich cultural diversity, traditions, history, attitudes, opinions, ideas, beliefs and values”. In reality most of the radio and TV stations in Georgetown exclude large sections of the Guyanese nation and ignore their “history, attitudes, opinions, ideas, beliefs and values”. They should be pulled off the air to make way for some of the new entrants who vow to uphold the Act.
Finally Section 24 (Eligibility for licences) subsection (2) is very explicit that the character of the persons being granted licences must be factored in: “the authority shall have regard to …(b) whether the applicant is a fit person to hold a licence.” The licence to broadcasters is granted by the state and enabled these entities to enter the minds of the populace in their most unguarded moments in their homes. This is a power that can be easily corrupted and therefore must not be granted lightly.