Though awaiting full legal advice, the Guyana Press Association (GPA) yesterday rapped the government over its proposed amendment to the broadcast law which would require all licensees to carry one hour of “public service programmes” each day.
Broadcasters have already come out against the bill which is scheduled to have its second reading in parliament today.
In a statement, the GPA said the proposed imposition of public service programmes is tantamount to an “unwarranted `programme manager’ position by the State in the daily schedules of radio and television stations”.
It argued that the overall provision for the allocation of 60 minutes for public service programmes will disrupt and trespass on contractual obligations that stations will have with advertisers and programme sponsors.
The GPA said it is understood that private broadcasters should play roles during emergencies and disasters including matters of public health, but the journalists’ body says it opposes the assigning of fixed periods or the need to advise the broadcasting authority about this or for the authority to dictate time slots if it does not agree with those allocated by the stations.
In the bill, public service programmes would also include an address to the nation by the President.
“The GPA strongly objects to the Guyana government seeking to redefine what constitutes `public service programmes’ as this is in direct contradiction and a violation of the letter and spirit of the definition of public service broadcasting as laid down by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) of which Guyana is a member”, the statement said.
It added that one of UNESCO’s factors in determining public service broadcasting is independence, which goes to the root of being free from State and political control and quoted UNESCO as saying: “Public broadcasting is a forum where ideas should be expressed freely, where information, opinions and criticisms can circulate. This is possible only if the broadcaster is independent, thereby, allowing the freedom of public broadcasting to be maintained against commercial or political influence. If the information provided by the public broadcaster was influenced by the government, people are less likely to believe the content. Likewise, if the public broadcaster’s programming were designed for commercial ends, people would not understand why they are being asked to finance a service providing programming that is not substantially different from those provided by commercial broadcasters.”
The GPA said that one would shudder to think that Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, has “ill-advised the President and the rest of the Cabinet of what constitutes `public service programmes’”.
The GPA said it will be seeking legal advice from local and international experts and raising this matter with its affiliates such as the Association of Caribbean Media Workers and the International Press Institute, and other global press freedom bodies.
“We stand in solidarity with local broadcasters on this issue and will be seeking further legal advice to convince the government of the need to halt or reverse this process given the severe consequences these amendments pose to freedom of the press in Guyana and the commercial viability of private radio and television stations”, the statement added.