Non-compliant broadcasters begin settling accounts after being identified by GNBA

Leslie Sobers

The response to an ad by the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) for 12 broadcasters, including the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN), to make urgent contact because they failed to stick to the agreement on how they will pay over $100 million owed for broadcast rights, has been “heartening,” board chairman Leslie Sobers has said.

The list of broadcasters, which was published yesterday in the state-owned Guyana Chronicle, comprised Go-Tech/ Iramco Guyana Limited, Infinity Telecommunications Inc, E3 Communications, Bartica Communications Network Inc, Linden Wireless Telecommunications Network, Ang Inc, WRHM Inc, Tarzie Transmission Service, Rambarran Broadcasting Systems, Countrywide Broadcasting Inc, and CNS Inc.

Some paid deposits and entered into agreement while others paid substantial sums, Sobers told Stabroek News yesterday afternoon.

The published list, he had said earlier in the day, was not a punitive one. It was meant, he said, to ensure that the operators meet their obligations so that the GNBA may also carry out its other mandates apart from regulating.

Earlier in the year, he said, the board met with operators about their arrears. They agreed to pay 50 per cent of the arrears during the first quarter and the remainder in the ensuing months. He said that 13 broadcasters complied with what was agreed, while the others did not.

The deadline for compliance expired last Friday.

The tough stance taken, Sobers said, was as a result of the failure of broadcasters to fulfil “the reasonable” compromise they had reached.

Owner of CNS Inc Chandranarine Sharma yesterday told Stabroek News that he has since paid up. “I have paid up,” he said.

Earlier in the week, NCN, in a press release, had said that it had met all its financial obligations to the GNBA for 2017 and was in compliance with the GNBA regulations.

NCN Board Chairman Enrico Woolford yesterday said that NCN once again met with the GNBA as requested and expressed its concerns about the public embarrassment. He reiterated that NCN was up to date with its commitment for 2017. He would not commit to saying whether the NCN had paid up its commitment for 2018.

Nevertheless, he said, the NCN has made it clear to Sobers and the GNBA that as a national broadcaster, it has to first fulfil its obligations to the government and the national community, that is, the taxpayers, who guarantee payment for the broadcast rights in the national interest.

What may apply to private broadcasters without guarantee to pay up front, he said, should not apply to the state-owned NCN.

“He is cutting his nose to spite his face,” Woolford said, if the GNBA takes broadcast stations off the air or seizes their equipment. The GNBA, he said, should be encouraging broadcasters to expand by ensuring that intellectual property rights and copyrights are in place.

In ensuring proper production, GNBA should establish a revolving fund but there is nothing of the sort, he said, while questioning what the GNBA does with the revenue it collects.

“Administration by embarrassment was not the right way to go when there are other measures that could be applied for different operators,” Woolford added.

Noting that if they do not pay up they will be taken off the air, Sobers said, “that is not a threat. That is a promise.” He said it was in keeping with the laws of the country. “The law does not discriminate as to who is private and who is public. NCN is not relieved of its obligations.”

At present, he said, the GNBA was not looking at revocation of licences but at suspension for a period of time.

Not disclosing how much was owed by the specific entities, he noted that one owes as much as $20.2 million, while others owe from $9.2 million to about $1.7 million.

The 13 operators who have reached agreement with the GNBA and were paying off, he said, owed smaller sums.

On what the revenue collected is used for, Sobers said, “Ask that question of the GRA (Guyana Revenue Authority)” The GNBA accounts to the Parliament each year, he said, and in June he has to present the GNBA’s financial position for 2017 to the Prime Minister.

He said that questions will be asked about how the GNBA functions in relation to the national interest. He added that the GNBA was not only interested in revenue collection but one of its objectives is to start a fund that will promote local content and training to develop the broadcast sector.

Apart from DirecTV and one other entity, he said, other television operators, in particular, broadcast programmes for which they are not licensed yet they receive funding from advertisers.

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