There were wide consultations when the Broadcasting Amendments were being drafted

Dear Editor,

It is a source of personal pride, and it is now in the public domain, that for a period of time I made the boardroom of GNBA into a temporary office where I spent considerable hours. During that period, I took the time to review every single word in every minute of the board I succeeded along with minutes of the subcommittees, I examined every available policy document going way back to the days of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting, I examined every single application for a broadcasting licence, I read every item of board correspondence going in and out of the GNBA since its inception, I read every available cabinet decision regarding the authority, I gathered information on the organizational structure and much more. Through this exercise I was able to trace organizational and regulatory efficiency levels in order to construct models for future pathways. I did not treat my appointment flippantly or with casual engagement. As I am wont to do, I submerged myself in the task at hand and gave it the seriousness, thoroughness and personal effort it deserves. I know of no other way, So, yes, I am proud for having poured countless hours into these meticulous details in an effort to bring some semblance of order to broadcasting on behalf of the Guyanese people. I remain forever grateful to the management team for having provided the necessary support.

I also wish to clarify that during my perusal of the necessary documents I found that the majority of broadcasters were not honouring their obligations as it relates to the annual broadcasting licensing fees. Upon further inquiry I realized that the core method employed up to that point fell into the big stick category. I challenged management to try the carrot method.  The management team was not clear what range of authority they had to pursue outstanding payments since it was habitual to wait for instructions from my predecessor.  I advised the team to look at other similar regulatory agencies such as GRA, GCAA, GEA and GFA; it is unusual to wait on instructions from the Chairman to go about billing clients and make arrangements to clear arrears as long as it is not expressly forbidden by law. Management subsequently approached me with a suggestion to invite each broadcaster for a one-on-one meeting with the authority to discuss their indebtedness and possibly make payments in tranches. I could not (and did not) object because I see this as one of the fundamental functions of the authority. At that point, I requested to sit in on the meetings for the express purpose of canvassing the views of broadcasters with respect to possible adjustments to the regulatory framework to bring about (what they referred to as) “a level playing field.”

On the issue of consultations, I wish to clarify a few points:

  1. I am not aware of any consultations held on the specific text of the BA 2017 after it was drafted. However, the fact was that while it was being developed it was in the media and public domain (ad nauseam) for well over a year, and members of the public (including some prominent citizens) had taken the opportunity to offer suggestions during that period. One such person was Mr Mark Benschop who offered suggestions for a revised fees structure and small community based broadcasting stations. Mr Dean and Mr Kelly of Digicel Caribbean and Digicel Guyana voluntarily visited the authority to offer suggestions with respect to content copyright protection for broadcasters who purchase exclusive rights to certain programmes.
  2. I maintain that prior to the drafting of the Bill wide consultations were held with the majority of known stakeholders:
  3. In a meeting with Ms Bibi Shadick she gave strong opinions with respect to fees; it was her opinion that the annual base fee of $2.5M was reasonable and she did not support a downward review; those who could not afford it should seek to get out of the business.
  4. At the meeting between myself and Ms Shadick together with Mr Anil Nandlall, Mr Nandlall was very verbose about maintaining the annual licensing regime. He offered several convincing arguments for not handing out multi-year licences. On the other hand, Ms Beverly Harper and the team from Ansa McAl/Guardian Media advocated multi-year licences.
  5. Mr Anand Persaud of NTN and Ms Shaleeza Khan of Stabroek News Inc pleaded for regulations to prevent other stations from showing content to which they held exclusive broadcasting rights. Mr Rudy Grant of Ring Bang Radio offered many insights into legal regimes for music copyright with respect to broadcasting and the pay-per-play concept.
  6. Mr Bobby Ramroop of TVG/RGI didn’t like the idea of zoning; he espoused the view that multiple zones and multiple channels are unnecessary because the Guyanese population is too small for such a regime. He also opined that the authority could issue one frequency per a video/sound stream and that the holder of the frequency would have to work out his technical salvation to get his sound to the greatest number of people. On the other hand, Mr CN Sharma of CNS 6 and Mr Alfro Alfonso of Pinnacle Radio supported the idea of having zones; they remonstrated against being kept to a certain geographic range while others were freely allowed to have their signals penetrate far flung areas. It was their belief that zoning regulations would solve this issue.
  7. Ms Blackman of HBTV 9, Mr Christe of LRTV 10, Mr Rambarran of DTV 8 and several other broadcasters advocated a fee reduction based on a maximum captive audience. Mr Max McKay of WRHM 7 asked that the laws requiring two separate licensing fees (one for spectrum at NFMU and one for rights to broadcast at GNBA) be reviewed for numerous reasons which he offered.
  8. Ms Carolyn Walcott of UG, Dr Paloma Mohamed Martin and Mr Robert Forrester all made suggestions for regulating community broadcasting (to aid the resurrection of the UG broadcasting service among other things), and provided insights with regard to the implementation of media codes and aspects of self-regulation through a representative body similar to GMPA.
  9. The Inter Religious Organisation and non-affiliated religious bodies had formal sessions at the AC Convention Centre. They made contributions that included issues concerning the rating and filtering of content to protect children, and basic guidelines for content that is morally sound.
  10. Mr Rawle Ferguson of HJ Radio/TV and Mrs Molly Hassan of NCN advocated rules governing local content to encourage greater access to the airwaves by home bred producers.
  11. Cable operators were almost unanimous in their call for broadcasting zones and rules preventing one player from achieving near monopolistic dominance. They specifically argued that the BA 2011 prevented one entity from dominating any broadcasting sector, and that cable broadcasting was a distinct broadcasting sector and rules should be put in place to manage this development. They further argued that they were deliberately hampered in their quest to grow, while certain entities were given unbridled opportunities to grow; they made regulatory proposals to remedy and prevent this happening in the future.
  12. There were many persons who wrote in the opinion columns of several dailies to offer suggestions on the regulatory framework; these were meticulously cut out and bound by the GNBA. Numerous other persons offered their opinions through various other media including respected Charted Accountant Mr Nizam Ali who offered comments on financial regulations, and Mr Michael Forde, who offered suggestions about transmission properties and their relation to defined zones. I regret that the authority wasn’t able to meet with the principals of the National Commission on Disability to take on board suggestions to regulate broadcasting to facilitate better access to broadcasting services by persons with disabilities.
  13. I wish to reiterate that all television broadcasters were invited to a group consultation at the GNBA and held discussions with the entire board; matters relating to regulatory reforms were discussed.

All of the consultative engagements outlined above combined to play a major role in shaping the 2017 Amendments. Some may wish to argue (and they have that right) that another round of consultations should have been held with the specific text of the amendments before going to parliament; this type of argument is purely one of personal preference and procedural semantics. It is, however, a gross misrepresentation of the facts in a way that has caused public mischief and unnecessary international alarm to hold out that no consultations were held. This sort of behaviour is highly suspect in light of the fact that Guyanese from all walks of life were able to make unrestrained comments about upgrades to the regulatory framework. The PPP as a party represented by 32 MPs had its day in parliament; there is also a guaranteed seat on the GNBA Board where the party can ably consult with and make representations on behalf of its constituencies. The party failed to take up this seat for more than a year in a pledge of non-cooperation, perhaps as part of a larger plan to destabilize the entire national regulatory apparatus to stymie efforts at ushering in good governance. Though not perfect, the Amendments are a fair reflection of the views of the majority of stakeholders. The jury is still out on whether any other specific format of engagement would have added further benefit to the process.

Yours faithfully,

Leonard Craig

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