TV stations to challenge steep license fee

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 December 2015, 21:01 by GxMedia

Tony Vieria

Several television stations are preparing to take the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority over what has been described as exorbitant licenses and anti-free speech provisions of the broadcast law.

At issue is the GUY$2.5 million license fee for radio and television stations regardless of their size, coverage and market share. They are also concerned about content control provisions of the Broadcasting Act such as those having to ensure there is balance.

Tony Vieria told a news conference organised by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) that if a meeting among broadcasters and the GNBA is not held or does not address their concerns satisfactorily, legal action will be taken.

“We have hired attorneys to challenge the 2.5 and to challenge the way the 2.5 is implemented so I expect we will file shortly,” he said.

Sources in the broadcasting fraternity say that RBS Channel 13, CNS TV6, HBTV 9 and WRHM Channel 7 are among the stations that have pooled their resources to file a lawsuit through a team of high-powered lawyers. The sources said that if they do not win the case locally, they intend to take it to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Guyana’s final court of appeal.

APNU parliamentarian, Joseph Harmon said criticized the GNBA’s board for not playing a role in determining the license fees, but instead charging a sum that was ordered by the Office of the President. “If Ms (Bibi Shadick, GNBA Chairman) could say this is what she was given by cabinet then clearly the board itself did not exercise their minds to the reality of broadcasting,” he said.

APNU wants the GNBA to act independently and autonomously to arrive at reasonable and rational license fees.

APNU said that on June 13, 2013, the GNBA wrote television broadcasters stating that the would have to pay GUY$320,000 for use of channel and a GUY$2.5 million license fee for January to December 2013.

 The opposition coalition feared that many television stations would have to close down because of scarce advertising dollars, unfair competition by the state-owned media for the same advertising and businesses’ fear of being victimized if they advertise on certain stations.

“Television stations that are perceived to be sympathetic to the views expressed by the opposition will be targeted in this technique of fees manipulation to make it less profitable to operate and eventually put them out of business,” APNU said in a statement.

Despite government’s stated position that President Donald Ramotar would not sign into law any opposition bill that does not include the input from the executive, APNU announced that it would shortly table “deep” amendments to the Broadcasting Act.