CNS Channel 6 has dropped the Christopher Ram/Ramon Gaskin talk show ‘Keeping Them Honest’ from its programming following discussions with the “relevant authorities” over the programme’s content.
The station’s managing director CN Sharma, in correspondence to Ram yesterday, indicated that the programme will be discontinued with immediate effect. “I regret to advise you that I can no longer offer you air time for your broadcast of the subject-mentioned programme. This decision, which takes effect immediately, has been taken for regulatory reasons following a conversation I have had with the relevant authorities concerning the content of the programme,” Sharma said in his letter, a copy of which this newspaper was able to obtain.
“I thank you most sincerely for choosing the Peoples’ station CNS 6 for your hugely popular and useful programme and I trust that you will understand the pressure to which my TV station has been subject over the past several years and the sensitivity of the authorities in the current politically charged environment,” Sharma added. Repeated efforts to contact Sharma for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.
Ram, when contacted, said he was “surprised” at the development adding that he got notice yesterday morning when he went to the Channel 6 studio to do a recording. He said he attempted to engage Sharma on the letter but the managing director was hesitant to speak. Ram said that there were some ambiguities in the letter which he wanted to clear up, especially the question as to who were “the relevant authorities”. Ram noted that based on his knowledge, when it comes to content of a programme the authorities are the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) and the Minister of Information, who is President Bharrat Jagdeo. “I’m not sure if he is speaking about one of the two or both of them,” Ram stated.
This development comes days after the Broadcast Bill was tabled in the National Assembly by the government.
His surprise, Ram explained, had to do with the nature of the programme which dealt with issues such as the noise nuisance and the Pounds Act. The programme began in April and has been running for about 14 weeks and has been getting a lot of positive feedback, Ram indicated. He and Gaskin will ponder the matter over the weekend and will hold a press briefing tomorrow.
Asked whether they would host the programme on another television station, Ram said this was unlikely. “I don’t think there are many possibilities left,” he said. He noted that it was a live, call-in programme and not many stations offer this service. He said that Channel 9 offers this service, but noted that in the past when he approached that station the management had been very scared about the “hammer falling on them”.
Ram said he believed the decision set a dangerous precedent and said that his programme may be one of a series that would be taken off, noting that two of the opposition parties have access to the television station. “If Keeping Them Honest is taken off because of content, I don’t know how the others will remain,” he said.
This decision shows the level to which the nation has sunk, Ram said, adding that the Guyana Press Association, and every other group interested in democracy, freedom of expression and access to information should be concerned.
“I do appreciate the difficult situation and the dilemma in which Mr Sharma finds himself. Mr Jagdeo has been holding the Sword of Damocles over Channel 6,” he said. Ram noted that the station was Sharma’s livelihood and it also provided jobs for several people.
Ram said his inference to President Jagdeo’s involvement in the decision comes from his knowledge of how the system works, with the ACB simply making a recommendation to the Minister of Information, who examines the case and then makes a judgement.
Ram noted that the whole question of the appointment and the validity of the ACB has been thrown into the air because of a legal challenge. He said it was most unfortunate that the court has taken so long to rule on the matter, noting that issues relating to constitutional rights should be given some sort of priority.
ERC Chairman Juan Edghill, had complained to Chairman of the ACB, Evan Persaud, that “misleading and inflammatory statements and unsubstantiated allegations” were made by Anthony Vieira on the programme ‘Commentary’ broadcast on CNS Channel 6 on May 4 at 12:30 hrs.
Sharma, through his lawyers, had secured an interim injunction against the ACB, restraining that body from deliberating on the complaint and from making or attempting to make any recommendations to the President or the minister responsible for communication. The court order also restrained the ACB members from discharging and/or attempting to discharge their functions as members of the committee unless and until a member has been duly nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.
This case was, however, withdrawn a few days after Sharma met Jagdeo to discuss the alleged infringements of his broadcast licence in the wake of Edghill’s complaint.
CNS Channel 6 had been taken before the ACB on previous occasions most famously when a caller on one of its programmes issued a threat against President Jagdeo. The channel was subsequently suspended from the air by the ACB for four months.