Send broadcast bill back to parliament

-private sector urges President

The Private Sector Commission (PSC) yesterday called on President David Granger to send the Broadcast (Amendment) Bill back to Parliament for extensive public consultation.

The PSC’s statement last night was the latest broadside against the bill which on Tuesday saw two international press freedom bodies expressing grave concern over its provisions. The bill has to be assented to by the President before it becomes law. There was no word yesterday on whether it had been assented to.

The PSC said that it  had preferred to refrain from commenting on the Bill which it views as clearly contentious, until it had been fully debated in the National Assembly. It noted that the Bill amends the Broadcast Bill 2011 which did not attract much public attention at the time of its passing but which in the opinion of the Commission is far from adequate in a number of critical aspects in delivering a Broadcasting Authority and Law, which meets certain fundamental provisions.

The PSC statement noted that the 2011 Bill establishes a Broadcasting Authority, composed entirely of persons appointed solely by the President, hence completely compromising the independence of the Authority. In the United Kingdom, Canada and the majority of Commonwealth countries and in the USA, the precedent was to ensure that, even though Broadcasting Authorities are appointed by the government, the practice was for extensive and widespread consultation to be held with the political opposition and civil society as to their composition.

The Commission holds the view, according to its statement  that the government missed a golden opportunity to revisit and revise the 2011 Broadcasting Bill, which, at the time of its passing, did not receive full and adequate consultation with the licenced broadcast owners and the general public. The PSC stated, instead, the government has used its Parliamentary majority to enforce amendments of a bad Bill which bring into question the government’s intention with regard to the Amendment’s real purpose.

The Broadcast (Amendment) Bill 2011, the Commission’s statement said, provides for the cancellation of all current broadcasting licences in place immediately before the commencement of the Act, forcing these licencees out of business with no option but to reapply for a licence in a totally unreasonable period of time.  The PSC pointed out that these licences were issued under the law, however bad the law, to broadcasters who have made considerable investment and accepted in good faith that they will not be arbitrarily cancelled without cause.

“In fact, the Amendment to the Broadcast Bill has been introduced by the government without any serious prior consultation with Broadcast Licencees, never mind public hearings. The Commission finds this to be totally unacceptable and a complete departure from internationally accepted norm and practice.

“The Amendment of the Broadcast Bill also, again without any consultation, provides for the Broadcasting Authority to enforce the provision of broadcasting time on licencees of a minimum of one (1) hour per day at times which include prime time commercial broadcasts for the purpose of `public service programmes’, whatever that may be, entirely at the discretion of the Prime Minister who, in any event, has ultimate direction over broadcasting content under the 2011 Bill, “ the Private Sector Commission’s statement noted.

The PSC statement acknowledged the legislative precedent for government to place public service programmes on private commercial broadcast stations. The PSC said that the nature and content of this material was usually very carefully defined in Broadcast Regulations to ensure against programmes involving political and/or controversial material which was intended to specifically serve the interest of any political party outside of an election period.

The Private Sector Commission statement urged the President to send the Broadcast (Amendment) Bill back to Parliament for extensive public consultation with the Broadcasting Licencees, and the general public. The Commission also suggested to the President “to consider amendment and revision of the 2011 Broadcasting Act to reflect a broadcasting policy and philosophy for using the airwaves which will serve the public interest and convenience subject to the constitutional guarantees of free speech and expression.”

The Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) after consultations with several of its members in the media industry also released a statement yesterday  expressing its concerns with “two particularly contentious portions” of the Broadcast (Amend-ment) Bill 2017.

The GCCI statement referred firstly to Section 9 (1) of the Amendment which requires current broadcasting services “to apply within thirty days of the commencement of this Act for a licence” in order to continue broadcasting. The second concern dealt with the First Schedule which read, “Every broadcasting agency shall broadcast public service programmes in the following manner – (a) for a total of up to sixty minutes per day; (b) between 6:00 hrs and 22:00 hrs; and (c) free of cost.”

The GCCI in its statement  also appealed to the President to refrain from assenting to the Bill in its current format, and suggested that it be sent to a Select Committee and that the Prime Minister hold consultations with industry stakeholders and consider amending the language of the Bill.

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