President David Granger has assented to the government’s contentious broadcasting bill, despite local and international calls for more consultations with stakeholders over some of its provisions.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon made this disclosure in response to questions raised during a post-Cabinet press briefing on Thursday. According to the official gazette, the President assented to the bill on September 7, 2017.
“It is an act now, so it is already law…there is no question of it going back to the National Assembly. It is the law of Guyana,” Harmon stressed.
Government used its majority on August 4 to pass the bill despite fierce opposition from the PPP/C and public criticism.
The new legislation, which amends the 2011 Broadcasting Act, requires all radio and television broadcasters to apply for licences within 30 days of the changes coming into force or face immediate closure of their operations. Broadcasters who fail to apply for licensing or are rejected by the broadcast authority shall immediately halt operations or they would be guilty of an offence, for which they could face a one-year prison term, a fine of $1 million and the forfeiture of all their equipment.
The new legislation also states that every broadcaster would have to air public service programmes for a total of up to 60 minutes per day, between 6 am and 10 pm, free of cost.
Some of the criticism directed against the bill stemmed from the failure by government to consult with broadcasters on the recommended changes.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who had piloted the bill through the National Assembly, said in a statement after its passage that the amendments were urgently needed in the public’s interest and could not be delayed.
Nagamootoo had charged that there has been both a “gross misunderstanding” and in some cases “deliberate misrepresentation” of the amendments, and he argued that in most cases they “give clarity” and “add certainty” to sections of the Broadcasting Act.
“The assent… to the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2017 cannot be delayed by vested and parochial political interests, and by misconceived or misinformed arguments. The amendments are required, with some urgency, in the public interest,” Nagamootoo had declared in his statement.
The amendments, according to him, were recommended by the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) and tabled by him after “statutory consultation” with the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU), as required by the Act.
The Private Sector Commission (PSC) and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) had called for Granger to return the bill to the House. The PSC, in a statement, had said that the government missed a golden opportunity to revisit and revise the 2011 Act, which it said did not receive full and adequate consultation with the licensed broadcast owners and the general public at the time of its enactment. The PSC lamented that instead, the government had 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.
For its part, the GCCI 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 Nagamootoo hold consultations with industry stakeholders and consider amending the language of the bill.
The Guyana Press Association and two international press freedom bodies, Reporters without Borders and the International Press Institute, also voiced their concerns over the provisions of the bill and urged against the president assenting to it.