The Office of the President has maintained that the Sharmas’ attempted to negotiate for a reduced suspension of their television station and accused the couple of “dishonesty of the highest order.”
On Friday, CNS Channel 6 Programme Director Savitree Sharma denied bargaining for the four month suspension imposed on the station and accused President Bharrat Jadgeo of giving the public a false impression of her. Jagdeo imposed the four months suspension after meeting with the Sharmas at OP on September 30.
In a statement yesterday, OP described as “most incredible” the statement attributed to the Sharmas which appeared in Saturday’s edition of Stabroek News where they said that they did not engage in negotiations with the President when they met him on September 30 in relation to sanctions to be imposed for their May 4 broadcast of the (Tony) Vieira Commentary.
The statement said that the Sharmas “may want to deny” that they were told that the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) recommendation had been considered by the President, and no less than six months was the ACB’s recommendation as well as they were told that the President was proposing eight months and that they acknow-ledged that the infringement had taken place, and again indicated that it was an operator’s error, and as such felt the sanction was uncalled for.
According to the statement, Mrs Sharma, reading from a prepared document, “started to bargain” by “offering the first of a variety of reasons why the President should not impose such a penalty on them.” OP said that the reasons included that others had broadcast the commentary apparently without being brought before the ACB, the health of Mr Sharma, who Mrs Sharma alleged could drop dead at any moment, the firm’s indebtedness to the bank, tax obligations to the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), the plight of their 30 staff members and the administration’s apparent discrimination and a false impression of CNS 6 being an enemy.
The statement said that the President responded to the “argumentation” of the Sharmas and they continued to advance reasons for staying the President’s declared intention, “proposing instead that he be lenient and forgiving.” According to OP, “they offered to have Mr Sharma excluded from programming. The President indicated that he was not in a position to act otherwise, and a penalty could not be waived.”
“When asked what was their suggestion, Mrs Sharma responded by proposing four months. The President asked the Sharmas to be excused while their positions were considered. On their return, the President disclosed that he was going to reduce his original eight months sanction period of suspension to the four months that they had proposed,” the statement said.
OP said that Jagdeo indicated that a formal letter to the effect would be provided the following Monday. “At that time, Mr Sharma suggested two months, a proposal that the President did not consider,” the statement said.
It added that “this true reflection” of the September 30 engagement between the President and the Sharmas “clearly illustrated the President’s opening pronouncement on the sanction; the duration of the sanction; the argumentation by the Sharmas against its severity; their proposal of an alternative to the President’s intention; the adoption by the President of their suggestion; and the subsequent intention to communicate formally the sanction to the Sharmas.”
“To disclaim the negotiations that took place, for Mrs Sharma to resort to a prepared document for the engagement, is dishonesty of the highest order by the Sharmas,” OP said.
Ethnic Relations Commis-sion Chairman Juan Edghill, who was subject of the Vieira commentary, complained to the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) and he has also since filed a $25M lawsuit against the Sharmas. 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.
CNS Channel 6 offered an “unequivocal apology” to Edghill for the “embarrassment and damage to character” caused by the airing of the commentary. Savitree had accepted responsibility for the broadcast, explaining that her staff made a mistake and aired the wrong commentary.
The suspension has been denounced by a number of civil society groups, political parties and others.