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Pro-PPP radio, TV stations take GNBA to court over alleged freedom of expression violations

Attorney-at-Law, Anil Nandlall

Two radio and television stations closely associated with the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) want the High Court to find that their constitutional right to freedom of expression has been violated by a hearing committee of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) which they say has not been legally constituted.

Through their lawyers – Mohabir A. Nandlall, Marcia Nadir-Sharma, Manoj Narayan, Sasha S. Mahadeo-Narayan, and Rajendra R. Jaigobin – the stations have asked the High Court to find that no GNBA governing board of directors was appointed for 2019 to 2020.

Freedom Radio Guyana and Multi Technology Vision Inc (MTV) Channel 14/65 are further asking the High Court to quash decisions of the GNBA hearing committee that was established by the purported board on the ground that the committee was the product of an illegally-appointed board, and that it was was not properly established.

Freedom Radio and MTV Channel 65 contend in High Court documents that the committee’s decision violates their constitutional right to freedom of expression, and right and freedom to protection under the law. “The Hearing Committee established by the First Named Respondent has no legal authority or jurisdiction to hear or determine the existence or extent of any civil right or obligation of any citizen and certainly not the Applicant’s constitutional right to Freedom of Expression, as these are judicial functions prescribed under the Constitution of Guyana to be discharged by organs of the Judiciary,” the media stations state in separate court documents.

They are also asking the High Court to quash a decision contained in a letter dated October 2, 2019, under the hand of Violet Boyal, the board secretary and addressed to the Applicant, on the ground that the decision by the Hearing Committee is a violation of the doctrine of the separation of powers, contrary to and in violation of Article 144(8) of the Constitution of Guyana and “is unconstitutional, unlawful, illegal, unenforceable, invalid, irrational, unreasonable, capricious, arbitrary, null, void and of no effect.”

Those broadcasting stations also want the High Court to prohibit the GNBA and/or the Hearing Committee from enforcing or taking any steps to enforce its decision.

Freedom Radio’s General Manager, Raymond Cummings states that members of the GNBA Governing Board were appointed by Prime Minister Moses Nagamatoo for a term of two years. However, he says since the expiration of those appointments on January 31, 2019, no Governing Board of Directors has been appointed or reappointed.

Cummings says there are no gazetted or published guidelines in the public media and the committee’s decisions are “therefore unenforceable, and devoid of any legal authority.”

Cummings says the GNBA is objecting to aspects of the radio programmes, “Free Talk” hosted by Manzoor Nadir and “Free Chat” hosted by Ganga Persaud on July 25, 2019, saying that in the area of political broadcasts, “controversial or offensive references to opponents shall be avoided.”

In the case of MTV, it says that station has been fined a total of GYD$150,000 for alleged breach of the Broadcasting Act and the Guidelines for Broadcasters on February 2, 2019 at 8:06 pm on “Viewpoint by Ed Layne”, on March 21, 2019 at 10:14 pm on “On the Precipice of a Constitutional Crisis with Priya Manickchand”, and on June 8, 2019 at 8:17 pm on “Ed Live: Controversial statements made against the Government”.

MTV says it exchanged correspondence with the GNBA and was later invited to a hearing.