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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.