Many aspects of the Broadcast Act are completely unacceptable in a democratic society

Dear Editor,

Until recently there has been far too much silence about the legality of the Broadcast Authority placed in the laws of Guyana by Act No 21 of 2011.

There are many aspects of this act which make it completely unacceptable in a democratic society. And only after the Kaieteur News and the Stabroek News’ applications for a radio licence were thrown in the rubbish bin along with 43 others did we hear this huge furore about the radio licences granted to 10 friends and supporters of Mr Bharrat Jagdeo in complete violation of our laws just before he demitted office in 2011. Only the Broadcast Authority could grant a licence, and the fact that they granted licences to these 10 people selected by Bharrat Jagdeo and discarded the other 45 applications decades after they applied, tells us what sort of authority we have.

In 1995 when the first Broadcast Bill was placed before the public, it stated at the very beginning that the authority must be independent and impartial; this 2011 Act does not so state; therefore from the outset we have a law which is not drafted with impartiality, independence and autonomy in mind, it’s a law which creates an instrument of its political masters and should be condemned by everyone especially Unesco, the GHRA and the international community. Clearly with an authority like this, private broadcasters who do not toe the government line, will be persecuted for the most trivial of reasons. A gross violation of fundamental constitutional rights.

The following is contained in Guidelines For Broadcasting Regulation (Second Edition) by Eve Salomon; she is an international media consultant with particular experience in broadcasting and press regulation. She was Director of Legal Services at the UK Radio Authority and is a member of the UK’s Press Complaints Commission. This work was done for Unesco and can be found on the internet at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001832/183285e.pdf

I specifically want to draw attention to section 2.21.1 Means of appointment: “It is vital for members of a broadcasting regulatory authority to be able to function free from any interference or pressure from political or economic forces. Therefore the means of appointment should be set out clearly in law and should be done in a democratic and transparent manner.”

We are also informed at 5. (5) That “The law setting out the conditions of the authority must say what their total employment package will be, duty free, salary, etc. These must not be left to the discretion of any political person especially not a minister of the executive.”

I also want to quote the provision of 2.21.4 Funding: “Funding can also be used as a means of exerting political pressure; if the authority does not act in accordance with government wishes, funding could be withdrawn. Terms of funding should be set out in law, and wherever possible be kept separate from any potential political interference.” This tells us that Unesco is saying that like our Ethnics Relations Commission and the Audit Office, the Broadcast Authority should by law be allowed to draw its annual operating funds directly from the Consolidated Fund and not be subjected to influence by any minister, which is especially necessary in Guyana where the government is notorious for breaking its own laws.

In 1995 Unesco’s Martin Mordecai in analysing the PPP’s first Broadcast Bill noted that “merely stating that the authority must be independent will not make it so, the method of appointment must guarantee that independence.”

Our authority drafted under then President Jagdeo as Minister of Communi-cations allows the president to name, without consulting anyone, six of the seven members of our authority and Mr Ramotar, without shame, has appointed to our authority Bibi Shadick an MP for the PPP; Charles Ramson Jr, son of former attorney General Charles Ramson, a recently graduated lawyer who works in the Office of the President;  Mr Dindyal Permaul, who works for the government as CEO of the Guyana Livestock Development Authority; Ms Boyce who works for the government as the coordinator of the one laptop per family project; Gerry Gouveia a close personal friend of Mr Jagdeo; and if there was an investigation of NICIL the sale of Duke Lodge to Mr Gouveia would have to form part of the inquiry, his recent tirade against Transparency Inter-national for criticising the government in the Chronicle would be still fresh in our minds and inform us about how impartial Mr Gouveia is; about Mr Norman Mc Lean I will not say much, but he seems to be selected by the PPP for many commissions and committees being placed by them on the Electrical Technical Committee in the Linden matter the most recent. The seventh member, Sherwood Lowe, was the only member allowed to be appointed by the opposition.

In Jamaica, for example, one could challenge all of these people, even Lowe, since their law specifically states for example that no MP or person who served in any government position could be appointed to their broadcast authority less than 7 years after demitting office as an MP or local government member. And all nominees must be appointed after meaningful consultations with the leader of the opposition. In such meaningful consultations, the government side could say that they don’t want Lowe.

By no stretch of the imagination could this be an impartial, independent authority, in addition to which it is my feeling supported by legal counsel that this act violates numerous articles of the constitution; free speech and equality of treatment are just two, and we intend to mount a challenge in court some time soon.

Before I close I want to make two points: of the 10 radio licences awarded the one that was awarded to Bobby Ramroop should not be made an issue of, since in a line of equals he is first. I say so since our Appeal Court on October 14, 2009 handed down a decision that depriving VCL28 of a radio licence since 1993, ie for 16 years, was unconstitutional and the NFMU was instructed to give them a licence and the government was directed to pay them compensation. Ramroop inherited that licence as the owner of VCL28. The other nine were a shameless violation of our laws, a parting slap from Mr Jagdeo, and should be challenged.

Secondly the opposition led by Desmond Hoyte marched from 1997 to 2001 to treat the African section of our population more equitably, and in the bi-partisan board on Broadcasting which was formed in 2001 as a result of the Dialogue between Jagdeo and Hoyte. Some preliminary agreements were reached between the government and the opposition as to how and to whom the licences for radio and television would be issued in this country, Jagdeo and the PPP have honoured none of these agreements in the new Broadcast Act of 2011.

Yours faithfully,
Tony Vieira



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