Broadcast expert Kit Nascimento has expressed shock at the granting by the Guyana Government of a licence and broadcast frequency to the Government of China saying it has given a foreign power the right to transmit here without being subject to regulatory requirements and the principles that should underpin licensing.
It was the latest criticism of the government’s decision to award the frequency which had also been questioned by another veteran broadcaster, Enrico Woolford. Critics have said that the award discriminates against local broadcasters who have had applications in for some time and was not done transparently.
The China TV broadcast was formally launched on February 9 in the compound of state TV NCN where special provision has been made for it.
In a letter to Stabroek News which is to appear in tomorrow’s edition Nascimento, who has been involved in the drafting of broadcast legislation here, noted that the electro-magnetic spectrum is a finite natural resource for mass communication and must therefore be employed in a responsible manner to serve the “public interest, convenience and necessity”.
Nascimento charged “What the government has done, is to give, in effect, a broadcasting licence to own and operate a television broadcasting station in Guyana to the government of China without it being subject to the regulatory requirements, principles and practices governing the issuance and use of a broadcasting licence applied universally in any democracy.”
Referring to principles and practices set out by the US Federal Communications Commission, Nascimento noted that a fundamental precept in the conferring of a broadcast licence is for the licensee to “make a positive, diligent and continuing effort to determine the taste, needs and desires of the public in his (her) community and to provide programming to meet those needs and interests”. He asked how this would be achieved by a station transmitting what amounted to Chinese propaganda.
Another fundamental principle he reached for was that the licence “should not become the private preserve of certain individuals or groups to serve their special interest nor should they serve the exclusive interest of certain social, economic, political or religious philosophies or of particular business enterprises”.
While he said that the recent Broadcast Authority is yet to apply those rules to local licences, he argued that that principle would be certainly violated by the granting of a licence to the Chinese government broadcasting material that is serving Beijing’s interest exclusively.
“It is difficult, therefore, if not impossible, to understand how our government, who apparently have acted unilaterally in granting a broadcasting channel to China outside of the requirements of the recently passed Broadcasting Act and without the sanctioning of the Broadcasting Authority, should consider the granting of a broadcasting frequency to a foreign government to be serving the public interest and convenience of the people of Guyana”, Nascimento stated.
Arguing that Georgetown has given the Government of China the absolute right to broadcast on a guaranteed domestic frequency, Nascimento asked by what means the Government of Guyana intended to regulate the broadcaster with regard to the content on the channel assigned to it.
“Whatever is broadcast on our airwaves, according to our Broadcasting Act, is intended to be administered and governed by an independent and autonomous Broadcasting Authority and regulated under licence by the Authority. How, may I ask, was that licence granted in the first place and by whom and how will it be subject to the enforcement of the broadcasting standards set by our Broadcasting Regulations?”, Nascimento questioned.
He also asked how the government would justify the precedent it has created by granting a broadcast licence to a foreign government.
“Why should another government, with whom we have diplomatic, trade and commercial relations, not expect the same privileged right and request an exclusive frequency to broadcast on a domestic channel?”, Nascimento asked.
He added “I may be wrong, but I am not aware of any sovereign government which has granted to another government an unregulated exclusive right to broadcast on one of its domestic frequencies. Our government, no matter how much it wishes to cement relations with the government of China, has made a horrific mistake and has set a dangerous and indefensible precedent.”
At the ceremony on February 9th in the compound of NCN at which Chinese Ambassador to Guyana, Zhang Limin, was present, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robeson Benn welcomed the channel and said the media, especially, could learn a lot from it.
“The fact that we will have online daily 24-hour information, from China, in itself signals the opportunity for us to learn from the Chinese experience…, more so for reporters with respect for broadcast journalism,” Benn said.
Woolford had written a letter to this newspaper in which he said that government had given preference to the Chinese over Caricom countries. “The Government of Guyana gave China a 24-hour channel on Guyana’s limited electro-magnetic spectrum ahead of its own and Caricom citizens under the Caricom Single Market and Economy mechanism,” he stated. Woolford added that the granting of the licence was also contrary to the embargo on new licences until the broadcast authority was in place.
However, Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon defended this last week, saying that this arrangement pre-dated the embargo on new licences.
The HPS said that while he was yet to be briefed on the cause for the 10-year delay before actual conclusion of the terms of the agreement and turning on the switch to put CCTV in homes, government is pleased that the agreement is finally implemented.
According to GINA, Luncheon said the decision to establish CCTV was not made two years ago and therefore did not enter the spectrum for conflict with the statements that no new licences were to be granted. He reminded that in 2001, then leader of the opposition Desmond Hoyte had agreed to set up task forces among which was one on the broadcast sector. He reiterated that the embargo on licences came after the task force had concluded its work and the Chinese agreement was entered into prior to the embargo on TV licences.
In a follow-up letter in the February 10 edition of Stabroek News following the formalizing of the deal for the station, Woolford asked a series of questions:
What procedures were taken to license the operation of the China Central TV?
When was the licence applied for?
When was the licence granted?
Could documentation be provided to substantiate the process?
Who is the licensee and who is paying for the licence?
Was CCTV required to register as a local company and submit its financial plan to the NFMU (National Frequency Management Unit) or GNBA (Guyana National Broadcasting Authority)?
Was CCTV/NCN required to submit its technical specifications and other requirements before being identified for, allocated or licensed to broadcast on a frequency on Guyana’s limited public resource, the Radio Frequency Spectrum?
What kind of arrangement does China Central TV have with NCN for rental of space on the transmission tower, terrestrial space, or for electricity, etc?
Why is an entire frequency being allocated to a foreign power and does such an allocation set a precedent in Guyana’s international relations for any other foreign entity to demand the same, on terms no less favourable than those offered the Chinese, based on a Most Favoured Nation status?
Answers have not been provided to these questions.
Woolford also cited attempts by local TV operators like CNS, WRHM and HBTV over the last two decades to expand without success and the analogous situation in Linden with regard to Channel 13.
The CCTV local station is set up in the compound of NCN. It is broadcast on (Channel 27/Cable78) and shows China’s news programmes on a 24-hour basis.