Despite losing almost its entire $81M subvention to opposition cuts yesterday, CEO of the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) Mohammed ‘Fuzzy’ Sattaur says the company will continue to fulfill its mandate of educating citizens on government’s developmental programme.
“…We ain going nowhere. We ain getting no shut down. We will reorganise and we will manage this company to make more money and to do much more than we’re doing right now,” Sattaur told Stabroek News in an invited comment yesterday, shortly after the motion to make the adjustments was passed. “There is not going to be any amount of turning away from the role we have to put out developmental programming and to say to the people what the government is doing with their money,” he added.
Sattaur said that the management and staff of the company [are] caught in the middle of a “political decision.” “The politicians eventually will iron out their difficulties and I noticed that they did not cut to zero. They cut to $1, which means that it is still open for supplementary provisions,” he said.
The opposition APNU and AFC reduced allocations for NCN as well as the Government Information Agency (GINA) to $1. This reduced the proposed budgetary allocations of both agencies by more than $211M .The opposition has been unhappy with the modus operandi of both entities.
Sattaur also said that the move by APNU and the AFC would most likely prevent the two opposition parties from having greater access to the station. “If they shut us down basically, how can they expect to come to us and say ‘you’re not getting any money from the government but now you must give us free air time?’ The issue with the opposition has never been whether they should have access to NCN or not. The issue has always been whether they should have free access to NCN,” he said.
Speaking on the way forward, Sattaur said that the management will first have to discuss the situation with the Office of the President but noted that there will most likely be implications on programming and staffing. He said, however, that the company still had access to $508M worth of revenue to manage its operations, which he admitted is a considerable amount of money.
Regarding staff reduction, Sattaur said there will have to be some trimming of the more than 150 employees and the 70 contracted workers currently in NCN’s employ, while noting that the subventions covered 30% of staff cost. “Unless that percent can be replaced by a new revenue stream, they will have to engage in some trimming,” Sattaur said, while stressing that APNU and AFC will have to be held accountable for this development.
Speaking on the impact on programming, Sattaur said it would means that NCN cannot afford to do a lot of the local programming that is currently broadcasting. “It means that, in consultation with the Office of the President, we will have to determine how much air time would go to popular programming that can be acquired at very little costs, like the other television stations are doing,” he added.
He insisted that there are alternatives and said that NCN may now have to focus on some amount of counter-programming. He suggested that airing death announcements may be one such option.