The owners of CNS Channel Six have moved to the courts to quash the four-month suspension saying that the move was unjust, unreasonable and that the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) is not lawfully constituted.
Lawyers filed the court action last week on behalf of broadcaster and politician Chandranarine Sharmaand Savitree Singh. The respondents in the matter are the Attorney General and ACB members Evan Persaud, Norman McLean and Ronald Case.
President Bharrat Jagdeo had imposed the four-month suspension as sanction for a commentary that was aired on the television station, based on the recommendation of the ACB.
The ACB had recommended no less than six months but after careful consideration, which included the couple’s financial difficulties, Jagdeo lowered the suspension to four months.
The suspension took effect on September 30 but Jagdeo, facing local and international pressure, later temporarily lifted the suspension, which will continue on December 1.
According to the court documents filed by Senior Counsel Rex Mc Kay and Attorneys Neil Boston and Christopher Ram, the applicants are entitled to their fundamental rights and freedom of expression as is set out in the constitution.
As such, they are applying to the High Court for redress for contravention by the state or its instrumentality of their fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 144 and 146 of the Constitution.
It stated too that between 2003 and October 2011, the ACB was not lawfully constituted and none of the members—Persaud, Mc Lean and Case—met the threshold requirement of “persons knowledgeable and with recognized competence in matters relating to broadcasting”. Case ceased to be a member of the ACB when his nomination was withdrawn by Leader of the Opposition Robert Corbin in October 2003.
The documents said that the finding and recommendation provided to the president by the ACB were unconstitutional, made without jurisdiction, unfair, unreasonable, in breach of natural justice, unlawful, ultra vires, null, void and of no legal effect. More so, the president could not act on the finding and recommendation.
The ACB is further being accused of failing to take reasonable steps to have an oral hearing to acquaint itself with all the relevant information so that it may make an informed decision as to whether the applicants had infringed any provision of the amended regulation of the Post and Telegraph Act.
Among other grounds set out in the application is the fact that Sharma formed and launched the Justice for All Party of which he was the presidential candidate for the 1997, 2001 and 2006 election. Sharma has signalled his intention to contest the November 28 polls and as such his television station will be of vital importance. It broadcasts 24 hours a day with a range of public interest programmes, which reach a wide cross section of persons. These include talk shows and call in programmes on dedicated telephone lines involving among others criticisms of the government, its ministers and public service employees.
It was stated too that 32 employees, 12 of whom require specialist training and expertise to operate sophisticated equipment are employed by the television station and as such there is fear that the suspension would lead to irreparable loss of skills and impair the quality of broadcast to the public.
An order quashing the ACB’s finding and recommendation and one quashing the President’s suspension of the Sharma’s broadcast licence are being sought. Compensation as redress for contravention of their fundamental rights and/or aggravated compensatory damages are also being sought.
Following the controversial May 4, 2011 commentary on Bishop Juan Edghill by Anthony Vieira, Sharma was cited by the ACB for alleged breaches of the conditions of his licence. CNS Channel 6 offered an “unequivocal apology” to Edghill for the “embarrassment and damage to character” aired during the commentary. Its Programme Director Savitree Singh accepted responsibility for its broadcast, explaining that her staff made a mistake and aired the wrong commentary.
Edghill had on May 10 lodged a complaint with the ACB by way of letter alleging that statements about him “are inaccurate, unsubstantiated, misleading and designed to damage his reputation.”
Edghill has since filed action in the High Court against Vieira and Sharma claiming damages in excess of $25 million for libel published on May 4 on the television station.