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Pressure mounts on Guyana to review radio licenses granted to pro-govt persons

The Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) on Friday called on the Guyana government to overhaul the system for granting radio and television licenses, as condemnation intensifies that most pro-government and ruling party persons were issued licenses a few short months before Bharrat Jagdeo departed the presidency.

The Trinidad-headquartered ACM issued the call one day after government said the licenses that have been issued by the Jagdeo administration prior to the November 2011 elections were done under the colonial Post and Telegraph Act.

“The fact that some licenses have been awarded in the absence of a regime based on transparency and accountability is regrettable and we insist that even as other applications are being processed, without further delay, a full explanation should be forthcoming regarding the process undertaken to award these licenses,” says the ACM.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon said those licenses would now have to be examined by the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority.  A number of media executives here have raised their voices in anger against the apparent unfair and inequitable granting of licenses to many persons with strong ties to Jagdeo and the governing Peoples Progressive Party (PPP). They include Dr. Ranjisinghi Ramroop; PPP legislator, Dharamkumar Seeraj and several persons associated directly and indirectly with Natural Resources Minister, Robert Persaud. Wireless cable licenses have been also issued to entities associated with Brian Young, a PPP campaigner, and Vishok Persaud a son of late PPP executive member, Reepu Daman Persaud. 

The Guyana Publications Limited, publishers of Stabroek News,  and several other decades-old applicants who are not necessarily regarded as friends of the PPP, have been bypassed.

Except for the opposition-associated Sherwood Lowe, the GNBA is stacked with persons who are perceived as having a largely pro-government outlook. They are government legislator, Bibi Shadick- the chairman of the GNBA- Margo Boyce of the Office of the President’s One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) project, Attorney-at-Law Charles Ramson (Jr)- a former Office of the President employee and Dindyal Permaul, a former Permanent Secretary, and Gerry Gouveia, Norman Mc Lean who very rarely criticize the government. 

The ACM says it joins with the Guyana Press Association (GPA) in expressing grave concern that the assigning of radio and television broadcasting frequencies in Guyana has not been in keeping with best regulatory practice for the sector and poses a real and present danger to freedom of expression in general and press freedom in particular. 

Following is the remainder of the ACM’s statement.

We, however, believe the current unsatisfactory state of affairs can be resolved via a process of dialogue aimed at achieving the following short and long-term objectives:

1. Establishment of an independent regulatory authority accountable to the people of the Republic of Guyana through the country’s parliament;

2. Establishment of an appointments process to the Board of the Authority based on professional familiarity with the media sector and not on political alignment of any kind;

3. The governance process for the broadcasting sector should be the responsibility of the Authority, not a government minister or ministry, and should not extend to the Internet;

4. Content regulations related to the sector should be clear and unambiguous, be in full compliance with the principle of free expression and designed to satisfy public interest prerogatives as defined under the law;

5.  The process for the granting of licenses and concessions should be transparent, fair and equitable and the Authority should be accountable to parliament for its decisions.

The Republic of Guyana is bound by the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to create the conditions under which freedom of expression is respected and applied by all citizens.

There is also the globally-accepted commitment to promote the concept of media pluralism as, among other things, a check on the incidence of concentration of media ownership. Under such conditions, all ideas, opinions and other forms of social, political and cultural expression thrive.

Our proposals should, however, not serve as a constraint on the assigning of frequencies to applicants currently in the queue for consideration. The fact that some licenses have been awarded in the absence of a regime based on transparency and accountability is regrettable and we insist that even as other applications are being processed, without further delay, a full explanation should be forthcoming regarding the process undertaken to award these licenses.

We also recommend the conduct of a technical review by a team of independent experts on the potential impact of the frequencies assigned to the current crop of concessions on the operations of prospective licensees. 

We believe there is room for adoption of an acceptable mechanism for taking this matter forward to the satisfaction of all concerned.