19 civic groups join call for lifting of Sharma TV suspension

The Guyana Bar Association (GBA), the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and Red Thread are among 19 civic organisations that have joined calls for the government to review the “excessive” four-month suspension of CNS TV 6.

“It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the application of the penalty was delayed to take CNS Channel 6 off the air during the electoral season,” the groups said in a joint statement yesterday, while also noting that the timing of the move was provocative.

“Suspension of a license should follow a pattern of abuse, not isolated acts,” they added. The Guyana Trade Unions Congress, the Guyana Media Proprietors Association and the Guyana Press Association are among the prominent local civic groups that have already called for the lifting of the suspension.

President Bharrat Jagdeo imposed the suspension on broadcaster CN Sharma, following the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) on a complaint made about a commentary about Ethnic Relations Commission head Juan Edghill aired by the station. The opposition groups contesting the elections, APNU, AFC and TUF, have condemned the move, arguing that it has deprived them of crucial media access during the elections period. Jagdeo has denied that the suspension is linked to the upcoming elections. The opposition parties met with GECOM and urged its intervention to resolve the situation. GECOM is currently awaiting legal advice on its jurisdiction in the matter.

In their statement yesterday, the civic groups said CNS Channel 6 provides a source of legitimate views and opinions at variance with the government, and which have virtually no access to state-owned media.  They urge that government rescind the suspension with immediate effect or, at postpone its implementation until after the elections to remove the appearance of electoral manipulation. They also recommend that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) take responsibility to develop a protocol “guided by the principles of fairness, transparency and accountability” to create a level playing field with respect to access to the state-owned media during the electoral season.

The groups noted that the distinction between the roles of government as trustee of the state media and that of the ruling party as electoral contender is confusing. “In addition to its on-going responsibility to function as the public trustee for state-owned newspapers, radio and television stations, which are funded by taxpayers and managed by public servants, the government must during the period of elections, exercise even greater care to ensure this function is discharged in keeping with the principles of fairness, transparency and accountability,” they said, while also accusing the ACB of failing to address the systematic abuse of broadcasting guidelines as a result of the monopoly exercised by government over the state-owned media.

President Jagdeo has said he based his decision to suspend the station upon the recommendation of the ACB, which found that the station in airing the commentary on Edghill contravened Regulation 23 A of the Guyana Post and Telegraph Act. The Act states that “(a) the licensee should ensure that nothing is included in programmes which offends against good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite racial hatred or incite to crime or to lead to public disorder or to be offensive to public feeling; (b) the licensee, acting responsibly and in good faith, shall ensure that any news given (in whatever form) in the programmes of the licensee is presented with due accuracy and impartiality; (c) the licensee should ensure that due responsibility is exercised with respect to the content of any religious programme of the licensee and that in particular, any such programme, does not involve any abusive or derogatory treatment of the religious views and beliefs of persons belonging to a particular religion and religious denomination and (d) the programme broadcast by the licensee shall be of the highest possible standard.”

The groups, however, said that the allegation that the broadcast fomented religious strife appeared to be unfounded, since no religious organisation was known to have raised it. Moreover, it said the current administration’s policy of promoting involvement of religious figures in partisan politics has run the risk of religious rivalry more than an isolated broadcast commentary. As a result, it also urged that religious organisations be encouraged to launch a public conversation on the appropriate role of religion in political life.

The statement was endorsed by the GBA, GHRA, Red Thread, the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), the Guyana Society for the Blind, the Rights of Children (ROC), the Network of Guyanese Living with and affected by HIG/AIDS (G+), the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc.  (TIG), Common Ground, Church Women United – East Bank Demerara, Grassroots Women Across Race (GWAR) Green Light Women’s Group – North West District, the Guyana Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, Line Star Football Federation – East Coast Demerara, Mabaruma Heritage Committee – North West District, Morning Glory Women’s Club – East Bank Demerara, Shekinah Tabernacle Full Gospel – East Coast Demerara, Sunshine Women’s Group – North West District, and the Vilvoorden Women’s Organization – Essequibo.

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