Guyana govt defends radio licence to Jagdeo’s friend

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 December 2015, 21:02 by GxMedia

The Guyana government on Saturday sought to explain how a company, whose principal player is bosom friend of former President Bharrat Jagdeo, was granted licenses for radio licenses.

Through the Government Information Agency (GINA), the administration said Television Guyana Inc (TVG) was the successor to Vieria Communications Limited (VCT) that had successfully sued government for breaching its fundamental rights to a radio broadcast licence.

In 2011, Jagdeo broke government’s monopoly on the radio waves, granting some ten licences to applicants who were awaiting approval. 

“Among them was VCT’s application, which was one of the first in the system, but at the time approval was granted, Vieira had already sold his company and all rights to Dr Ramroop.

The granting of the licence, therefore, came as a result of legal proceedings against the government, which was instituted by VCT, and not as a result of any favour of the former president or his Cabinet at the time,” GINA said in a statement.

The statement came one day after two media owners and the Guyana Media Proprietors Association (GMPA) filed High Court writs, challenging the constitutionality of Jagdeo’s issuance of 17 radio and wireless cable licences to several persons and entities with very strong ties to him and the ruling party.

 TVG’s Radio Guyana Inc (RGI) can now be heard on 89.3/89.5/89.7 FM.

GINA said government has officially paid $500,000 dollars to Television Guyana Inc (TVG, as successor to Vieira Communications Limited (VCT), for damages after it was sued for breaching the company’s fundamental rights to a radio broadcast licence.

 The move came after a Court of Appeal Order was issued to the government’s Ministry of Legal Affairs, following the company’s success at advancing arguments at the levels of the High Court and the Appeal Court.

The cheque was paid in the month of March, originally to TVG, which had purchased all of the properties and assets of VCT. However, a decision was taken by TVG’s owner Dr Ranjisinghi Ramroop to pay the monies over to former People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) parliamentarian and businessman Anthony Vieira, as the company’s final obligations and commitment to him following the sale of VCT and all related properties.  

Vieira has since received the cheque via registered mail and has already cashed it. As successor to all rights of VCT, TVG received the radio licence consequent to the judgement. With the judgement also breaking the radio monopoly, nine other radio licences have been issued. 

The Court of Appeal, on October 14, 2009, ruled that the government had an unlawful monopoly on the airwaves and it said the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) was not doing its job with respect to considering radio licence applications. In this historic case, it was ruled that the NFMU had been procrastinating over the years. 

The Court, led by Chancellor (ag) Carl Singh, and comprising Justices of Appeal B.S. Roy and Yonette Cummings-Edwards, had allowed an appeal filed by Vieira on behalf of VCT, ruling that the company’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and freedom to receive and communicate ideas and information were contravened. The Court referred to precedents in the region and other jurisdictions, while citing several authorities on the issue. 

VCT had applied for a radio licence in 1993 and had asked that the court order NFMU to issue it with a radio licence forthwith, but the Court said there were technicalities involved in making such a decision, noting that it lacked the expertise to make such an evaluation.

It ruled that the NFMU is the entity which is well placed to make such an evaluation, and it called on the unit to “do its job”. However, the court also directed the NFMU to consider and determine VCT’s application for a radio broadcast licence, which was made since the early 1990s.

The Court, in its decision, said it is a notorious fact that radio stations in Guyana, which operate on the electromagnetic spectrum are government-controlled. It said the monopoly enjoyed by the government is not only unlawful, but significantly restricted VCT and the people of Guyana in their ability to receive and to communicate ideas and information without interference, noting such restrictions are not reasonably justified in a democratic society.

The Court said VCT is entitled to compensation for damages for violations of its rights and it granted the company leave to approach the High Court for an assessment of such damages. It also ordered the government and the NFMU to pay VCT costs in the sum of $250,000 each.

Attorney and then Chairman of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan, who was present in court for the ruling at the time, hailed the decision, saying it is a milestone in the constitutional history of Guyana. He said the Court of Appeal panel sitting in the matter was “bold and brave in relation to its tending of freedom and liberties at the judicial level”.