Tony Vieira's Comments
22 October 2017

Updates!

Receive email notices when a commentary is uploaded. Join our mailing list.

E-Mail Address:

View Article

Interim Management Committee
(Aired 1 September 2001)

    Since 1996 we have had many drafts and modified drafts of the proposed broadcasting bill. The main objective of the Broadcasters was to stop any attempts at political control of broadcasting and have an authority, which was completely autonomous and free of political control.

   To this end we have always asked for a broadcast authority which would comprise members who would be selected by a 2/3-majority vote in the parliament.

   The mechanism for the selection could be that 10-15 names "OF SUITABLY QUALIFIED PERSONS" would be submitted to the parliament and by a 2/3 vote parliament would select, say, 7 names and submit them to the president who would then select 5 names. The committee set up by President Jagdeo in 2000 to make recommendations on the way froward and which comprised Myself, two other broadcasters, Hugh Cholomondeley, Kit Nascimento and Prem Misir P.S. Ministry of information ended in deadlock and forced Kit and Hugh to submit a special report which outlined the method of selection of the authority, more in keeping with the method of selection the Broadcasters wanted since P.S. Misir kept refusing to do so. I would like to say here that despite our differences, and there have been many, Kit Nascimento has NEVER recommended for implementation anything which we the broadcasters did not want.

   It is good that the Jagdeo/Hoyte dialog has now brought this matter to the stage where we can establish an authority with substantial opposition input, which the government had refused to do since 1996.

   But there is danger here. And I would like to lay my case to the public.

    Recently the bipartisan committee appointed to make recommendations for new Broadcast legislation, is reported to have endorsed the amendments to the present wireless and telegraphy regulations published in the official gazette by the Prime Minister as an interim measure under which we will be licensed. The bipartisan committee however recommended that a three member interim advisory committee be appointed to advise the Prime Minister in administering the regulations with one member appointed by the president, one by the leader of the opposition and one by civil society [probably the private sector commission]

   The new licensing regulations, amending the old post and telegraph act, to cover the current broadcasting landscape and which was gazetted on the 27th June 2001, contained, as its first provision the following, "the licensee shall comply with the standards established by the minister for programme material to be broadcast"

  We found this to be wholly unacceptable, since without laying out in the regulations, in the most unambiguous terms, what the Minister's standards were, we would be agreeing to apply for a license to broadcast without knowing exactly what those standards were. It is also conceivable that the minister's standards could mutate from day to day.

   Fortunately after we objected, the Jagdeo///Hoyte committee decided to recommend the deletion of that provision. The broadcasters and the committee found all the other provisions governing content acceptable.

 Essentially the broadcasters have no problem with the political leaders selecting the members of the authority but what we would like to have, is a clear understanding by our political leaders, on both sides, that we should appoint professionals to police the regulations and not politicians. Purely political appointments will politicise the committee and that is what we have been fighting AGAINST since 1996.  

   Broadcasting must be regulated in the public's interest, convenience necessity and not for political purposes. And it must certainly not be controlled, regulate by all means but no attempt should be made to control it.

    Lord Lester of Hern Hill for the International Human Rights Association had this to say about Mr. Nagamootoo's Bill in 1996 and I quote him "the right to free speech carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such that are provided by LAW and are NECESSARY" Lester also had this to say " in a free democratic society it is almost too obvious to state that those who hold office in government and who are responsible for public administration must always be open to criticism, ANY attempt to stifle or fetter such criticism amounts to public censorship of the most insidious kind. Any statutory provisions therefore which criminalises statements likely to undermine public confidence in the conduct of its public officials, can only be viewed with the utmost suspicion" let me be clear about this ladies and gentlemen, public officials include members of parliament on BOTH sides, the media should be free to criticise the government AND the opposition once it is fair and once it is necessary.

   All the battles we had in the past were to prevent the establishment of an authority, which was controlled by the government in power. Mr. Mordecai the UNESCO expert brought in at great expense by the UN to give an opinion on Mr. Nagamootoo's first bill had this to say about it "the authority must be autonomous, the method of selection of its members must guarantee that, purely ministerial appointments would make the authority a creature of its political master"

    So I am appealing to our two leaders Mr. Jagdeo and Mr. Hoyte to agree in advance that the interim committee will comprise purely professional appointments whose agenda will be, to enforce the regulations in the interest of the public and not use it as a political football. 

   A committee comprising a PPP politician, a PNC politician, and furniture Manufacturer, for example, nominated by the private sector Commission, would be a disaster.

    Surely this is not too much to ask.