Within the past 10-15 years the government has embarked on a process of marginalising the private broadcasters who were not sympathetic to the PPP, whilst at the same time supporting and elevating those who were supportive of them. It is the single most obscene action taken by former President Jagdeo and it leaves the opposition with no real voice in the electronic media during an election. This is every bit a rigging exercise as actually manipulating the ballot boxes. Incredibly the opposition has not shown any real outrage at what is going on and continues to operate oblivious to this real issue in this country depriving them of communicating with the public, even as their ability to respond is constantly being silenced. VCT for example was forced out of business due to this same pressure by the government because of the Evening News and my commentaries and still the opposition did not see the significance of what was going on.
The government had been using the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting and now the totally political Broadcasting Authority [B.A.] to persecute those broadcasters who are not supportive of them. They have control of all channels countrywide except channels 6, 7, 9, and 13. Of these channels only Channel 9 is now openly opposing the government. All of the pro government stations can say whatever they want to say about the opposition with impunity, but if C.N. Sharma, for example, gives some air time to the opposition free of cost, I have information that he is required to allocate to it a monetary value for the purposes of paying taxes and VAT, just as if he is actually being paid, and he is required to give the government side equal time to air their response.
This is happening in a country where NCN owes no such obligation to the opposition to respond to anything written against them in the Chronicle or seen on the state-owned broadcast media, both radio and television. Actually as a state-owned corporation the opposition is entitled to ask for positions on the NCN and Chronicle boards or any state board for that matter and they have not. The sad fact is that in effect we have no real opposition in this country, and neither do we have an acceptable government. The incompetence, dishonesty and greed of the PPP has now become legendary. And the opposition are missing out on major issues. Even the TUC is beginning to complain about the opposition.
This is a democratic country which signed the UN’s universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1976, but the Broadcast Authority Act of 2011 and brought into effect in 2012 gives the President the sole right to select without consulting anyone, six of the seven members of the B.A., leaving the leader of the opposition to select only one member. And when this atrocity was established, by a totally illegal procedure in 2012, the leader of the opposition without considering the consequences not only did not object to it, he nominated his one member Sherwood Lowe to it, thereby giving it legitimacy.
Whilst the act itself calls on the Authority to have classes of licences, and to do surveys, opinion polls etc. to determine the broadcast landscape which would have an impact on how many channels the advertising marketplace could bear, and how much the licence fee should be etc., they totally disregarded these important devices to inform themselves, and introduced an oppressive broadcast fee structure of $2.5 million a year or 3% of gross income for both Radio and Television, a fee which has the capacity to bankrupt the small broadcasters. One broadcaster has since appealed to the high court for relief against this high broadcast fee. After nearly four months the government has not yet put up a credible argument as to the philosophy they have used to apply this ridiculous $2.5 million annual fee, as directed by cabinet and not the BA.
No one should pay this fee. It is unfair and has the capacity to bankrupt the small operators in the rural areas. The opposition has now tabled a bill modifying the Broadcast Authority Act and they should rush it through the House. And after it is passed, they have to find a way to stop the functioning of the current B.A. until President Ramotar assents to it. The time to stop this has long passed and now we have to undo the damage it caused including the illegal radio stations which got their licences from Jagdeo’s largesse. The B.A. just gave a licence to these people who had never even applied to the NFMU to become radio broadcasters in the past. Whilst there were numerous applications sent in years ago by people who wanted a broadcast licence, they were subsequently told after the 12 Jagdeoites were given their radio licences that they can apply again if they want to, but it will be a new application, and yet again we heard nothing of significance from the opposition.
To highlight the incompetence of this B.A., I will give this example. In a recent presentation, Peeping Tom, who looks into his wooden telescope, tells us that there may not be a broadcast of the 2014 world cup soccer since it will probably be carried on cable. He uses as his example the fact that the ICC T 20 World Cup Cricket was carried exclusively on cable and he wonders if the Caribbean Premier League cricket will also be carried on cable.
We have a B. A. in this country, the members of which have no idea what they are supposed to do, and these cricket and soccer issues are only one of the areas in which they are failing. Their agenda seems to be to penalise those stations which are antagonistic to the government and very little else, to muzzle free speech and little else, and given their composition this was predictable. The public is very vociferous now since it has come home to roost and it is affecting them adversely.
Broadcasting must always be regulated in the public interest, convenience and necessity and nothing else. And it cannot be in the public interest for the operators of cable with a limited subscriber base to get the rights to these events, since the majority of the people are not able to pay for cable services and will be left out.
It should work like this, the rights to these events which have broad-based national fans cannot be carried exclusively on a closed subscriber based operation such as cable, it’s against the public interest and convenience. What should happen is that only broadcasters should be allowed to purchase these rights and when they do; they could on-sell it to the cable systems, which will play it without the advertising, so that the cable subscribers will help to pay for the rights in exchange for the benefit of seeing the cricket without interruption. No event of national importance must ever be allowed to be exclusive to the cable systems.
This is Guyana and anything goes, but I have always held the view that wireless cable is not broadcasting, it is Narrowcasting, a name given it by Mr. Hugh Cholomondeley since you have to pay the provider for the signal and only subscribers can see it. As such it is more like a public utility and should be regulated by the Public Utilities Commission. Recently I was informed that one of the two wireless cable operators, who got the franchise through the back door, which is probably challengeable in court, unable to operate over the air due to bandwidth limitations is actually operating in the UHF band and not the band in which they were supposed to operate and is currently running fibre optic cable in Guyana i.e. this operator having obtained his wireless cable licence through questionable methods, is now changing from a wireless cable operator to a wired one, without us knowing exactly how this has been allowed by the PPP, and why it was not offered to public tendering, as happened in Jamaica for example. The question is, when he converts to cable will he still be under the Broadcast Authority? Only in Guyana Editor, only in Guyana.
The B.A.should immediately implement a rule whereby only broadcasters can buy these sporting events which have such massive support from the public and not the cable operators.