A few days ago on 1st April ‘All Fools Day’ I saw a report in the Stabroek News under the caption ‘Linden TV board scraps meeting after Solomon fails to provide key documents’. Editor, many days in this country when I get up in the morning, I have to pinch myself since I believe that I am living in the twilight zone and still dreaming.
In the newspaper article referred to, the following appears, “the now 14-member board of the Region Ten Broadcasting Inc (RTBI) adjourned a meeting yesterday over the failure of founding director Sharma Solomon to provide other directors with the articles of association etc.” A 14-member board, Editor?
When the people of Linden rose up in July 2012, the Government of Guyana, then PPP, promised that the Channel 13 TV station which was bequeathed to them by the Green Construction Group, but currently run by the government, would be returned to them. It never happened; excuse after excuse was given and nothing happened.
What is the history of this channel? Well, in 2006 Mr Robert Corbin asked me to go to Linden and find out what was the situation regarding the television station. I met with Mr Mortimer Mingo, then Regional Chairman, and he told me that because the people of Linden had no experience in running a TV station, it went bankrupt, and so a few years earlier they finally asked the government to take it over and run it for them. However, what actually happened was that it became a propaganda machine for the PPP, and he (Mingo) could not even get them to play any programmes made by the opposition, even if he paid for it to be played. I mention this because it is important in what happened next.
After the settlement with the PPP in July 2012, Lincoln Lewis, Aubrey Norton and Sharma Solomon came to see me. They said that they wanted my help to build back the station, so my first question was, “How much money do you have to play with?” The answer was “none!” After many visits having discussed the past experience and the politics of the situation, we decided that we would get a private operator to run the station and try to keep it commercially viable for the people of Linden in perpetuity. Our thinking was that at all times we must remember that governments can change, and if the government is involved in ownership of these regional entities it can backfire whenever governments change, but if the Lindeners were to make the necessary contribution to buy the material to establish the station, it would then be really a community station. Similarly, if they exercised the option of partnering with private operators/investors then it must be understood that having spent their money establishing a station in partnership with the region, the investor would have a legitimate expectation of a reasonable return to keep it profitable. So the concept of Vieira, Norton, Solomon and Lewis was that we would run it as an economic venture to ensure its continuity. Finally they convinced me to help.
When I made this expenditure in 2012, it was done to help the people of Linden, but it was a huge gamble since we were in opposition and no one knew what the Linden advertising marketplace was capable of, and how we would earn revenue to keep the station active. I told Sharma Solomon of my fears of victimization of the channel by an unfriendly PPP government in 2012 threatening the advertisers and persuading them not to advertise, as happened to me at Channel 28, and he assured me that it would not happen at Linden. I also had reservations since I do not live in Linden to supervise it.
Anyway, I did finally spend US$35,000 buying a 500-watt TV transmitter, TV tower, four antennas with combiners, cables, and all the equipment to mix audio and video for broadcast, including DVDs for playing ads and monitors and a character generator; a complete little broadcast studio, including parts such as satellite receivers, and dish receiving LNBs, to reactivate the satellite dish which was in fact the only thing we (my son Anthony and I) would have wanted. I want everyone in Linden to know that since around September 2012 I had in my possession everything to put this station on the air in about 2 weeks. My son Anthony still has all of this stuff today.
With the usual betrayals, the PPP went to the 2015 elections with Linden without their TV station, incredibly after 2015 the coalition government did no better and failed to curb the gridlock in the 14-man board which thought that they would be running this station. Also it is true that GNBA did give Linden a licence in November 2015, but the board of NCN asked that before they relinquished Channel 13 in Linden, they wanted licences for NCN to have a national sports channel. Apparently, in Guyana, every day is All Fools Day regardless of who is in power. So, at that time since I was at the GNBA and had handed over all ownership to my son Anthony, I did nothing.
These regional channels must be owned by the people of the community and not be part of the administrative power in the regions, since experience has shown us that it is a recipe for disaster; we must understand that governments will change unless we have a dictatorship.
Since the situation was that the people of Linden handed over the station to government since they could not run it themselves, and the government betrayed them and ran it as a propaganda machine for the PPP, we all agreed that we would not want any possibility of that happening again. The Lindeners must own their station, and if they do not have investors they must find the money to buy the equipment to do so. If anything happens and they fall into financial difficulties they must take collections from their community and must not, under any circumstances, hand the station over to the government in power, no matter which government, since an election can change everything. And this impasse for nearly 5 years is what can happen with an unfriendly government delaying until they lost power in 2015, then replaced by a friendly government from 2015 to 2017, but with a board of 14 people. We have still lost 2 years because of all these power struggles, but essentially they have no idea how to finance, build and manage the station. I believe that NCN is still broadcasting in Linden on Channel 13. We never needed any equipment from them; and as I explained above, I bought everything new for a complete station, including office equipment etc. All NCN had to do was to stop broadcasting on channel VHF 13 which they have never done.
In any event, if you gave one region a television licence and the government paid for it to be built, every other region, with justification, will expect that they must have theirs as well. Also since it is regional broadcasting and the broadcast coverage area due to technical reasons, limits coverage only to Linden and Wismar, the other members of Region 10 can, with justification, demand that they also be capable of seeing the signal, and that would be impossible.
Against this principle and without even applying for or obtaining licences from the GNBA, this government has been setting up community stations radio and TV run by NCN across the nation. Community stations must be owned by the people of the community, it is the only way they can work without ongoing political interference.
If 1,000 people in any community put up a couple of thousand each, they can own their own small community TV broadcast, but you must get everyone in the community involved, regardless of political persuasion. That is how you build nations, from the ground up, community by community, since despite national elections changing the government, the station must always be there to serve them. I never agreed that this licence should be given to the Regional Administration in a trust; it should be owned by the people of Linden and Wismar in a trust, and they must work together to make sure that it is successful.
My son Anthony will be more than happy to enter negotiations with anyone who wants to buy complete equipment to make a complete TV station, since no sane investor will enter any investment without having a substantial say in how it will be run. And faced with 14 people not capable of agreeing on anything, this would not be a good investment.