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Proposed amendments to Broadcasting Act will violate free expression- Jagdeo

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo on Friday warned that amendments to Guyana’s Broadcasting Act could result in the closure of several radio and television stations and would certainly see government taking away airtime from all stations under the guise of “public service programmes”.

Jagdeo railed that government has moved to turn propaganda content into “public service programmes” and urged the private broadcasters to challenge the amendments in the High Court. “This is an expropriation of property and the time that private stations have, that the State under the PPP (People’s Progressive Party) never sought to impose,” said Jagdeo under whose administration advertisements t0 the privately-owned Stabroek News newspaper had been withdrawn and the privately-owned CNS TV6 television station had been closed because of the repeated airing of offensive content..

The former President issued a veiled objection to government’s legal definition of public service broadcast as content produced for the purpose of educating, informing and promoting policies and programmes. He said if broadcasters believe that the content is partisan, they have 24 hours to complain to the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority within which the authority will decide whether the government should pay. “It doesn’t say you can’t carry it. You just have to pay for it so automatically the government gets your time whether it is a public service broadcast for free,” he said.

Warning that “this is the beginning of government propaganda to all parts of the country,” he said the Bill would change the media landscape in an unbelievable manner to the detriment of press freedom.

The Bill states that radio and television stations must dedicate 60 minutes daily  free of cost between 6 AM and 10 PM. The 60 minutes are for the President’s addresses to the Nation, emergency notice or disaster warning issued by the Civil Defence Commission, Guyana Police Force, Guyana Fire Service, the Minister of Public Health and the Guyana government generally or any other authorised agency.

Jagdeo said he was troubled that broadcasters could be denied licences through new regulations and that could result in the expropriation of property.

The amendments to the Broadcasting Act, which now make the regulations and  additional sections part of the principal Act, states that existing radio and television stations could be closed and their equipment seized if they do not apply for and are granted new licenses within 30 days of parliament’s approval of those amendments.

Guyana currently has 11 radio stations and 19 television stations, including those operated by the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN)

The proposed amendments state that anyone who does not apply within 30 days or if a licence is not granted,  “he shall immediately cease to carry on the broadcasting service”. Failing to do so could result in a GYD$1 million fine and seizure of the equipment.

“All machinery and equipment used, or which can be used, for broadcasting and owned by or in the possession of, the person concerned is liable to be forfeited; but property not owned by such person shall not be forfeited unless the court is satisfied that the owner of the property knew or ought to have, with reasonable diligence, know that the person convicted had no licence to carry on broadcasting service,” states the Bill.

Sources said less than six broadcast licence applications have fulfilled all the criteria.