The opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) on Friday predicted that government would use amendments to Guyana’s Broadcasting Act to close several radio and television stations whose principals are closely aligned to that party, a move that government signaled is on the cards.
PPP front-bencher, Clement Rohee, who reiterated that the amendments would result in unconstitutional actions, wrapped up his contribution to the debate by warning that government was setting the stage not to issue licences to those entities.
He accused government of concocting reasons such as the allocation of frequencies and the granting of licences to friends and family, geographic spread and the fact that they had been awarded by then President Bharrat Jagdeo.
“All of that is just a smoke-screen… is mainly to achieve an elections promise which is basically to take away- because that was what was said- that they are going to take away the licences that were granted “illegally by Bharrat Jagdeo administration,” he told the House.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, immediately after Rohee’s presentation, disclosed a list of frequencies that had been awarded to Radio Guyana Inc ; IRadio Inc; Little Rock Radio Inc; National Television Network, Freedom Radio and E-Networks to allow them to cover the most of the densely populated coast.
“What we are seeing here is that all across Guyana- Radio Guyana Inc; I-Radio Inc and Freedom Radio Inc only- this is the monopoly I’m talking about,” he said in relation to radio stations. Touching on over-the-air television channels, he said E-Networks can transmit on several channels while others merely have one channel.
Harmon indicated that then President Jagdeo handed out scarce frequencies to mainly his associates and added that the amendments to the Broadcasting Act would remedy that. “This Bill is going to correct it. The people of this country asked us to act; the people of this country require us to act as a government and we will act and so Mr.Chairman this is not a matter of taking away anything,” he said.
The State Minister explained that the amendment to the principal act would be “breaking the shackles placed on freedom of information by the PPP”, giving people choices to listen to some of the radio stations all of the time.
Radio Guyana Inc,’s principals include Jagdeo’s friend, Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop; I-Radio’s parent company directors had included then Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud’s wife; Freedom Radio’s principals are strongly associated with the PPP and E-Networks’ key figure is Vishok Persaud, the son of late veteran PPP member, Reepu Daman Persaud. NTN’s Anand Persaud is a known PPP supporter.
Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes, in her debate contribution, recalled that entities such as Stabroek News had decades ago applied for a radio licence but had not been granted any, and similarly Atlantic Cable Network had been barred from expanding its operations while a new entrant had been licensed and allowed to expand. In response to opposition claims that the changes to the Act would deal a severe blow to press freedom, she recalled that the Jagdeo administration had withdrawn advertisements from the privately-owned Kaieteur News and Stabroek News newspapers, suspended the licences of the privately-owned CNS TV6 and HBTV Channel 9 as well as prohibited the expansion of the area of coverage of private television stations.
Stressing that there is no room for hate speech, racial incitement and terror threats, Hughes said there is a radio station that is on the margins of violating the relevant laws. “We must be aware that even today there is a radio station that’s bordering on very close that so that is why even more reason why we need to ensure that it’s in the legislation,” she said.
The amendments to the Broadcasting Act will now require all radio and television stations to apply for licences within 30 days. If they do not apply or are not granted licences, they will have to close operations. Failure to comply would result in the seizure of their equipment.