All previously licensed and unlicensed broadcasters have until October 6 to apply for a licence in keeping with a recent amendment to the broadcast law, the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) said yesterday, while reminding that non-compliance will attract penalties.
In a press release issued yesterday, the GNBA said it was calling on broadcasters to apply for licences in wake of the recent announcement by the Ministry of the Presidency that President David Granger signed the Broadcasting (Amend-ment) Act into law on September 7, 2017.
The new legislation requires all radio and television broadcasters to apply for licences within 30 days of the amendments coming into force or face immediate closure of their operations.
The law says 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 GNBA yesterday said too that all those who had applications pending prior to September 7, also need to visit the Authority to amend their existing applications or if need be, reapply in accordance with the new Act.
The amendments made were shrouded in controversy, resulting in the opposition, as well as several broadcasters publicly making strong objections. Several broadcasters had requested a meeting with the Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo on August 2, one day before the bill was debated and passed in the National Assembly, but it was not granted.
“The GNBA is pleased to announce that many existing broadcasters have already started this application process and a number of them have actually completed these procedures with the GNBA as set out in the Broadcasting (Amendment) Act 2017,” the release said.
Sunday Stabroek was unable to ascertain how many existing broadcasters had already reapplied for their licences.
According to the release, the completed applications will be processed “expeditiously” following the 30 day stipulation.
The GNBA also advised those broadcasters who are not in compliance with this provision that the new legislation prescribes “a series of penalties for non-compliance.”
The release added that “GNBA continues to be available to all broadcasters and those wishing to broadcast…[to assist with] the reapplication procedures and processes, and looks forward to working with a fully licensed and regulated broadcasting sector for the benefit of all Guyanese.” Despite fierce opposition from the PPP/C and public criticism government used its majority to pass the bill which amended the 2011 Broadcasting Act. In addition to the application process and penalties for non-compliance, the act 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 of the government to consult with broadcasters on the recommended changes.
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 (Amend-ment) 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 GNBA and tabled by him after “statutory consultation” with the National Fre-quency 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 had 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 brings 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.