The bad old days in broadcasting are not over

Dear Editor,

I had not seen your editorial on this Bill but I saw a well-written and carefully argued letter opposing your views on the Broadcasting Bill, No 13 of 2011.

I was recently able to get a copy of the long anticipated Bill and can say with confidence that it takes us nowhere. It has a lot of fig leaves, but still cannot hide its naked intent. Like those crafters during the previous regime of the PPP’s main rivals, the Bill is full of bluff and may for a time mislead well-meaning persons flattered by flourish of key words.

The foundation of the Broadcasting Bill, so far as the quality of broadcasting is concerned, is in the Board of the National Broadcasting Authority.  I am almost certain that most laws of this kind look alike. The part of the Bill which ought to be crafted for the particular society, is the form and shape of the Board of the Broadcasting Authority, the persons exercising authority over the content of broadcasting.

It is not a good Bill if it merely looks like laws in other countries. It will be a good Bill if it takes into account the broadcasting issues of Guyana and our social and political dynamics. We who are Guyanese know that the composition of the Board is central.

One example will help. The Bill provides, not unfairly, that a person who owns a share in any broadcasting agency – radio or television for example – is disqualified from appointment as a Board member. Good. This sound like an arm‘s length rule for everybody.  But the President who appoints all Broadcasting Board members controls the state media without owning a personal share in them. The Bill makes no provision for the banning of those who have obligations to the rulers or have received favours from them.

Some citizens will be very impressed by the number of qualifications lawfully required to be represented on the Broadcast Authority. A list of them is impressive at first look. It is required to have talents trained in law, broadcasting, performance arts, information technology, finance, literature, accounting, administration and public service. Gender, labour, land, human rights, race relations, religion and the Constitution of Guyana, for example, are not areas of competence required of Board members.

It already has the look of a closed circle.

What is the most important provision of the Bill?  For me it is who appoints the Broadcast Authority. Does this allow for a plural authority or not, or is it the same old one-party domination, not even with a new dress?

At 4 (1) it is laid down that the Board shall be made up of no fewer than four (it says no “less“ than four) and no more than seven persons.

4(2) is the crunch and crux of the Bill. It reads: “The President shall appoint all the members of the Board.”

Then follows a burst of token, all-party democracy.

4(3) One of the members of the Board shall be nominated by the Leader of the Opposition for appointment after he has meaningful consultation with the other parliamentary opposition parties.

In another concession to the world, the person who is the Managing Director of the National Frequency Management Unit, shall be a member of the Board, but of course, without a vote.

In conceding one member to all the parliamentary opposition parties, the Bill puts the Procurement Act in the shade, as that law does not even recognise an opposition or a parliament. This Bill gives them token representation, which insults them rather than recognises them.

This Bill speaks of the special status of the state-owned media. It will not change the arrogance of the state-owned media but now there will be an authority established by law to control the private media. The key to the proposed legislation is the President’s power to appoint, in his discretion, all but one of the members of the Board. The Bill proves that the bad old days are not over. Why should an elected executive president want to dominate a broadcasting board?

Yours faithfully,
Eusi Kwayana

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