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Jagdeo’s radio license issuance challenged in court

The constitutionality of the granting of 22 radio and television licenses by then President Bharrat Jagdeo is being challenged in the High Court on grounds that he handed them out largely to his political and close associates in breach of an agreement with the opposition.

Filing separate lawsuits are the National Media Broadcasting Company (NMBC) and the Guyana Media Proprietors Association (GMPA) on the one hand and Enrico Woolford, Managing Director/Editor for EMW Communications.

Managing Director of the NMBC, Glen Lall said in court documents that Jagdeo’s granting of the licenses under the colonial Post and Telegraph Act just before the November 2011 general and regional elections amounted to favouritism.

“By the granting of licenses by the Minister and the National Frequency Management Unit to friends, supporters, family members and to members of the Peoples Progressive Party/Civic who would clearly reasonably be expected to propagate the political views and opinions consistent with the said party, correspondingly applicants are being deprived and denied their right to freedom of expression and to communicate opinions and that the inequality amounts in itself to a contravention” of equality and full enjoyment of all  constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

Jagdeo has been cited as the Minister of Information rather than a former president in the court documents but he has not been named a respondent.

Lall said that the granting of 15 radio licenses to “close friends, associates, fellow members of the same political party and agents of the same political party of Jagdeo having regard to the fact that the spectrum space is limited is “disproportional and arbitrary.”

Radio Guyana Inc; which is associated with Dr. Ranjisingjhi Ramroop a close friend of Jagdeo, has been issued with radio frequency  licenses by the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) for 89.3 ; 89.5; 89.7; 106.9 and 107.3. Telcor and Cultural Broadcasting has been granted frequency licenses for 89.7 ; 90.1 ; 91.56 ; 104.9 and 103.3. New Guyana Company Limited has gotten 91.1; 90.7; 90.5; 105.9 and 105.3. The contact person for Telcor is Omar Lochan, a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. Lochan is also the husband of Jaya Manickchand, sister of Education Minister, Priya Manickchand. That entity’s directors are Kamini Persaud-a niece of Jagdeo and wife of Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud- and Ruth Baljit his sister.

One frequency each has been granted to NTN Radio, Rudolph Grant, Wireless Connections, Hits and Jams Entertainment, Alfro Alphonso and Sons Enterprise, Haslyn Graham and Little Rock Television.

The EMW Communications Managing Director said NTN is owned by Anand Persaud, a close friend of Jagdeo and staunch PPP supporter. Hits and Jams’ Rawle Ferguson has been described as “an active supporter” of the PPP. Quark Communications is owned by “best friend” Yong and E-Networks by Vishok Persaud, the son of Reepu Daman Persaud-late PPP parliamentarian and advisor to then President Jagdeo.

“The sole and predominant purpose of issuing fifteen licenses to only three companies was done for the purposes of overcrowding the ratio spectrum and ensure that the Broadcast Authority would find it easy to refuse qualified applicants,” said Woolford in his court documents.

Lall’s court documents also show that the NFMU has issued licenses to E-Networks Inc. and Quark Communications Inc. to broadcast in the 2.5 gigahertz band. The list of licensees only became public on March 14,203 when Prime Minister Samuel Hinds responded to a question by Alliance For Change (AFC) parliamentarian, Cathy Hughes.

Lall said the decision to grant the licenses and frequencies is unlawful, wholly in excess of jurisdiction arrived at or made in bad faith and with improper considerations and motives, null, void and of no legal effect, in breach of the principles natural justice legitimate expectations and in breach of the constitution.

In light of an agreement between Jagdeo and Corbin on May 6, 2003 that no more licenses would have been issued until modern broadcasting legislation and an authority were established, Lall contended that he had a legitimate expectation of being granted a license, the public interest would have been best served and there would not have been an unfair advantage by newer applicants. “The existing licensees are free to carry on commercial activities, develop a client base and earn revenues whilst” he (Lall) and members of the Guyana Media Proprietors Association “are left to languish.”

The court documents pointed to a trend of attacks on sections of the private media by then President Jagdeo to make the point that the licenses were issued based on bias. “The departure of the minister and the National Frequency Management Unit from the terms of the communiqué; the manner of the grant of licenses and the known similarities of political associations; family connections and friends of the majority of persons receiving licenses constitute clear and stark evidence of the abuse of public power, unreasonableness of the departure from the Communiqué and the irrationality inherent in the said decision to so depart and its constitutionality.”

The NMBC Managing Director said he wrote Chairman of the National Broadcasting Authority, Bibi Shadick telling her that all previous applications would now have to be submitted to the authority. He said that the fact that the applications would have to be resubmitted “is a source of substantial hardship, inconvenience and disadvantage as he existing licensees are free to operate pending any approval under the Broadcasting Act.”

Lall said he and members of the Guyana Media Proprietors Associations would now have to face more rigorous requirements and obligations which were overcome for the existing licensees by being granted licenses prior to the coming into force of the Broadcasting Act.

Lall said that to the best of his knowledge Radio Guyana Inc; Telcor and Cultural Broadcasting and New Guyana Company Limited did not have any applications pending among the 60 that had been referred to by the NFMU General Manager, Valmikki Singh.

Lall said he waited over five years while CN Sharma waited over 12 years to benefit from the legitimate expectation created by the terms of the Jagdeo-Corbin communiqué.

Woolford, in his originating notice of motion, said his application for FM and AM broadcasting licenses date back to October 1997 but he has never received a response. He said that the “willful and inexplicable delay” in dealing with his application violated his constitutional rights to own property and freedom of expression.

Lawyers for Woolford are Senior Counsels Rex Mc Kay, Keith Massiah as well as Neil Boston, Fitz Peters, Abiola Wong-Innisss, Bettina Glasford and Christopher Ram. Lall and the GMPA’s lawyers are Roysdale Forde and Keisha Chase.