Handing out of new radio licences by the broadcast authority constitutes acceptance of the controversial distribution by former President Bharrat Jagdeo in 2011, just weeks before he demitted office, according to attorney Anil Nandlall.
The distribution of these licences in 2011 to persons who had been described as friends and family of the Jagdeo government had been strongly condemned and there had been many calls for their rescission. When APNU+AFC took power in 2015, the fate of the Jagdeo licensees led to a furious row at the Guyana National Broadcast-ing Authority (GNBA) between then Chairman Leonard Craig and board member Tony Vieira and the matter remained unresolved and was passed on to the new board that was named in February this year.
After passage of an equally controversial, amended broadcast law on August 4th this year by the APNU+AFC government, all those holding licences were told to reapply. There had been fears that the reapplication process would be used to deny licences to those who were favouredby Jagdeo in 2011. However on Friday, the GNBA chaired by attorney Leslie Sobers handed licences for 2016 to several radio stations which were granted licences in 2011 including the PPP’s radio station.
Yesterday, Nandlall told Stabroek News that while the PPP’s radio station secured its licence for 2016, three frequencies were taken away from it. This has not been disclosed by the GNBA.
“By letter dated October 23, 2017, the Chief Executive Officer of the GNBA wrote to my client informing them that the frequencies previously assigned to them to broadcast to Bartica, Linden and Essequibo will be “retrieved for possible reassignment”, Nandlall complained.
Efforts yesterday to contact GNBA Chairman Leslie Sobers were futile as calls to his mobile phone went unanswered.
Nandlall argued yesterday that the GNBA’s granting of the licences substantiates and legitimizes what his clients and the other granted were saying all along- that they met the necessary criteria for receiving the licences since back in 2011 under Jagdeo.
“I have recently said that there was no wrongdoing with the granting of the licences in 2011 they were all done in accordance with the law. Persons had political grouses but there were no irregularities and the persons who were granted were all qualified,” he stressed.
“Now by reissuing those very licences this government has lent its imprimatur to the granting of those licences originally made in 2011. All the big hullabaloo they were making in 2011 onward was just simply propaganda they have done the very thing they were claiming was so wrong and discriminating and all the negative adjectives they used to describe,” he added.
On Friday, the GNBA presented radio broadcasters with licences saying that they have demonstrated full compliance under the 2011 Broadcasting Act as of 31st December and that the move paves the way for the enforcement of the recently-amended legislation.
Chairman of GNBA, Sobers explained that licensing for 2017 will be done in compliance with the amendment of the Broadcasting Act which became law on September 7, 2017.
Those entities who were on Friday handed their licences are Radio Guyana Inc., National Television Network Radio Inc. Wireless Connections, iRadio Inc. and the state-owned National Communications Network. The PPP’s radio station, Freedom Radio, was also issued its licence.
Except for NCN, the first four named companies had been granted licences by Jagdeo in 2011. The iRadio licence went to former Minister of Natural Resources Robert Persaud and several relatives, who have since sold their interests to a Trinidadian media group.
Jagdeo’s actions triggered denunciations with many calling on the David Granger-led APNU+AFC coalition government to revoke the licences and formulate a system that is impartial and lawful.
Jagdeo had justified his decision to grant broadcast licences, especially the radio licence he gave to his own party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
“They talk about the friends and family thing, the broadcast legislation. Every time I opened the papers I see Jagdeo gave his friends and family this stuff… you hear every single day, friends and family, and of course the PPP got a licence and I don’t mind that one,” he told had told a party forum last year.
Further, he added “I am a politician, so they can accuse me of that one.”
The criteria in keeping with the law would have been that the applicants must be fit and proper; must have the financial means, the technical skills and requirements which allow them to obtain spectrum access.
Critics had said that Jagdeo had no basis for the award of the licences as the required broadcast authority was not in place in 2011. It was purported that he had acted under the provisions of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) established during dialogue with the late former President and Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte. However, by the time Jagdeo made the licence awards, the ACB was no longer functioning.
The GNBA’s Chairman on Friday explained that the licences granted were for 2016 and to pave the way for a smooth transition for this year’s own to be dealt with. He informed that the agency is still to issue for 2017 and this will be approached with a little care.
“As you know, the [Broadcasting] Amendment [Act] was assented to on the 7th of September and came into law on the same day and that new Act, which amends the 2011 Act, has some provisions in it that were not there before,” he said while citing zoning as one example.
He added that with the presentation of the 2016 licences, the Authority will now have to determine how the licensing for 2017 will be done.
All broadcasters were required to reapply for licences following the enactment of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Act on September 7, 2017.
The new law required all radio and television broadcasters to apply for licences within 30 days of the amendments coming into force, failing which they faced immediate closure of their operations.
But Nandlall says that it is under the very new act that his client’s licences were pulled and that it concretises his position that the current law is biased.
Nandall said that while the GNBA gave a licence for Freedom Radio to operate its Georgetown frequency, the agency “illegally” took three others and he will challenge the decision in court.
“We said from the inception that the Broadcasting (Amendment) Act is unconstitutional and that it would be used as a weapon to confiscate broadcasters’ frequencies and limit their capacity to broadcast to areas which they were lawfully authorized to broadcast under their existing licences. In my speech in the National Assembly and in articles published in the press, I illustrated by use of legal arguments supported by case law authorities, cited from throughout the Commonwealth, that these licences constitute the private property of the licencees and cannot be altered, interfered with or revoked as the Broadcasting (Amendment) Act permits and authorizes the GNBA to do. As a result, I launched a legal challenge against the constitutionality of that Act on behalf of Freedom Radio Inc., a limited liability company. As if to prove me right and to vindicate the position which the PPP adopted in relation to the Bill, by letter dated October 23, 2017, the Chief Executive Officer of the GNBA wrote to my client informing them that the frequencies previously assigned to them to broadcast to Bartica, Linden and Essequibo will be “retrieved for possible reassignment”. This is precisely what we warned will happen,” he lamented.
“This clearly amounts to the unlawful acquisition of private property without the payment of compensation and is contrary to and in breach of Article 142 of the Constitution of Guyana. What makes it even more abusive and egregious is that this is done even while my client has launched legal proceedings. It is a display of utter contempt of and disrespect for the judicial process and the Chief Justice of Guyana, before whom the case is pending. Fortunately, it serves to strengthen the case which has been filed,” he added.
A number of commentators had condemned Jagdeo’s licence awards in 2011 and called for their rescinding. These persons included accountability advocate Anand Goolsarran and analyst, Ralph Ramkarran. Serving as Speaker of the National Assembly at the time, AFC Leader Raphael Trotman had described the licence awards by Jagdeo as “obscene”.
In August 2015, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had also criticized the Jagdeo licence awards during a Parliament speech. He had said “We will reorganise and we will also rework the spectrum for television and radio licences and we will reexamine and where necessary reverse the illegal granting of television and radio licences to the relatives, cronies and friends of the one (Jagdeo) who stood up here and tried to lecture to us”.