Prime Minister lashes back at Jagdeo over criticisms of broadcast law amendments

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 July 2017, 21:10 by Denis Chabrol

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has dismissed as totally baseless the criticisms leveled at government by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, about the regulations proposed for the Amended Broadcast Act.

The Prime Minister, in a Department of Public Information (DPI) interview, Saturday stated that the regulations were done in accordance with the law. On July 27, the Prime Minister read the legislation, for the first time before the National Assembly.

“In politics, all noise and no purpose is not an option. All noise and protest without unity is not an option, so I am no longer surprise that the Leader of the Opposition would find fault. He recalled that when he recently sent the proposed Code of Conduct for minister and public officials to Jagdeo, he derided the proposals as crap, “He didn’t suggest any change to the code that I sent to him,” government said in a statement.

To the claims about the regulations ‘being the end of press freedom’, the Prime Minister said, “No one should take him seriously. It’s just a cacophony of noises because at no time has the press in Guyana been freer”. He reminded, “There is no censorship. There is no attempt to shut down newspapers or throw out reporters from press conferences. There has been no use of withholding of advertisements from newspapers to strangle them economically. There have been no threats to invade printing presses and bump of reporters and press people in a newspaper that could have been critical of government. There are no more denunciations, and what Guyanese know as the cuss -down of reporters describing them as vultures and carrion crows”.

The fact that the former president shared out licenses “willy-nilly to friends, cronies, family and political associates” was also recalled by the Prime Minister, “basically, this gentleman has absolutely no credibility to be lecturing anyone, more so the government, as to the issue of press freedom.”

The Broadcast Act, the Prime Minister stated, had its genesis decades ago. He noted that immediately after the former government gained office in 1992, an international expert shared his views on the local broadcast landscape and described it as “being akin to the Wild West”.  Over the following years, several efforts were made to implement and regulate the sector, he said, which had now grown to include a two dozen television and radio stations.

The initial Broadcasting Act was deficient, the Prime Minister noted, “from the point of view that it didn’t spell out what was expected of people who operate radio or television, frequencies or stations”.

He recalled, “There was literally a one sentence regulation that was passed in 2014 that said  you shall pay a fee, for the right to broadcast, which was very shameful.  That is all you could require a broadcaster to pay a fee and not whether the broadcaster should confine himself or herself to certain standards of good broadcasting, healthy content or educational, or also to ensure that you do not broadcast hate speeches, appeals to racism, or the kind of ethnic divisions that we had experienced in this country decades ago or to advocate acts of terrorism.”

It was in light of this that government saw the need for a relevant and contemporaneous law that would have addressed some of these issues, the Prime Minister revealed, adding that consultations were also held with the Frequency Management Unit to guide government.

The fact that the broadcast spectrum is a limited, finite resource, means that it must be managed properly, the Prime Minister explained. This move would not dissimilar to that of the petroleum sector which has seen several investors being granted licenses, he added, “You don’t own this forever. It is given to you for a certain limited time and you have obligations. Like receiving a license to drive a motor car. It tell you that you must drive on the left hand side of the road. What happens if you drive on the right?..for every license to use a national resource, it carries responsibilities”

The requirement, which was criticised by the Opposition leader makes it mandatory that all stations air “public service programmes” for up to 60 minutes a day, free of cost, between 6 am and 10 pm. The bill defines such broadcasts as “programmes produced for the purpose of informing and educating the public, and promoting policies and activities of the Government that benefit the public as a whole.”  was merely something expected by the population of a responsible government, he further explained. He said, “It is not too much to ask a broadcaster to do these things out of a national obligation.”