CNS Channel 6 will be off the air effective Monday at midnight after President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday handed broadcaster CN Sharma a four-month licence suspension as a sanction for a May 4, 2011 Anthony Vieira commentary in which there were damaging statements about Bishop Juan Edghill.
The suspension was handed down following a scheduled one hour meeting at the Office of the President (OP) between Sharma and the President.
A sombre Sharma, who is also the leader of the Justice for All Party, told reporters minutes after the meeting had ended that according to the President the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) had recommended eight months.
However, the President, according to Sharma, took into consideration the contents of the discussions and the fact that Sharma had encountered difficulties with bank payments and decided to halve the original recommendation.
“He took some time and made a decision for four months suspension. The suspension starts from Monday midnight. We will receive from OP a letter saying we have now been suspended for four months,” Sharma said.
He explained that Jagdeo said that the suspension was handed down because of the Vieira commentary adding that according to the President, “we should know that what was said on the air was not right and that it is our fault what is happening to us [the suspension].”
Sharma added, “He said that he was lenient to us and he will give us four months ….”
Noting that this development would affect the business greatly as well as the more that 30 persons he has on staff, Sharma said, “They will be out of jobs for the next four months.”
He said too that he was also told that the time could be shortened but he would have to appeal to the new president following general elections later this year.
His wife Savitree accompanied him to the meeting and stood by his side as he spoke with reporters. Holding a stack of paperwork, she too had a sombre expression.
The Guyana Press Association (GPA) in a brief statement last night said it has noted the sanction imposed by the state on Sharma and his television station. “Once again, the GPA is troubled by the process by which decisions are arrived at to impose such sanctions.”
Meanwhile, APNU’s presidential candidate David Granger said he is in disagreement with a “one person tribunal of which there is no appeal”.
He told Stabroek News during a telephone interview that there is a constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression and if it is the case that the television station is accused of any violation then the usual procedure is the court of law. Granger said that if found guilty then the station should be made to pay.
He noted that this particular television station is an important medium for communication with the public. “The rights of persons would be in jeopardy,” he stressed before calling yesterday “Black Friday”.
He explained that this day is a very dark day for the media in Guyana. Granger stated that the decision to suspend Sharma’s licence has everything to do with elections. He said the intent is to silence Sharma who is a critic of the government.
Granger yesterday called for a public protest in support of Sharma. He said he would support such a protest.
This newspaper was unable to make contact with Alliance For Change officials but the party’s prime ministerial candidate Raphael Trotman had said earlier this week that the developments in Sharma’s case could be “a veiled form of provocation. I believe that some of this could be actually intended to provoke strong action in response to drive fear”.
He had also questioned the timing of this development.
On Tuesday Sharma received an invitation from Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, for yesterday’s meeting along with a document stating that a one year suspension would be imposed. The document was not signed or placed on an official OP letter head. Dr Luncheon later denied that it was sent by OP.
Sharma had been awaiting a ruling from Jagdeo on whether the station’s licence would be suspended or revoked after he was cited by the ACB for breaches of the conditions of his licence, following the controversial commentary on Edghill.
CNS Channel 6 offered an “unequivocal apology” to Edghill for the “embarrassment and damage to character” caused by the airing of the commentary. Savitree who is the Programme Director had accepted responsibility for the broadcast, explaining that her staff made a mistake and aired the wrong commentary.
Edghill had complained to the ACB after the broadcast, saying that certain statements allegedly made by Vieira were “inaccurate, unsubstantiated and misleading.”
In a letter to the Chairman of the ACB Evan Persaud, Edghill said the “misleading and inflammatory statements and unsubstantiated allegations” constituted a breach of the Guyana Post and Telegraph Act, Chapter 47:01, Regulation 23A.
He added that “there can be no excuse on the part of the licensee that they were unaware of the content because it was a live programme, and Vieira in the said commentary indicated that he had written it two months before it was aired but had problems with its recording.”
According to Edghill, “the fact that it was recorded then aired indicates that it was presumptuous, calculated and done with the intent to cause harm even though the licensee is aware of possible sanctions.”