Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Pioneer
(Aired 14 December 2001)

   This essentials of this commentary was written since 14th December 2001 but I didn't record it until January because I had dengue fever throughout most of the Christmas season, it was originally written to tell one W.Griffith who wrote a ridiculous letter in the Stabroek News where to get off, I decided to do it now because of a letter I received from a fellow Guyanese living in Betsy Ground, East Canjie.

   I receive quite a few letters weekly, ladies and gentlemen, from all over the country telling me of all sorts of corruption, incompetence, irregularities, nepotism, etc. I however refrain from commenting on them since the information they contain is not definitive enough to produce an accurate and fact filled comment and would rely heavily on rumor, innuendo, unsubstantiated claims etc and I have stayed away from that type of Comment.

   But this letter from the gentleman in Canjie said and I quote "I must assure you that many persons who disliked you for various reasons over the years now favor your new role, seemingly neglected by the main opposition parties" the dislike the gentleman referred to was clearly to do with the Vieira Black box, in the letter from W. Griffith published in the Stabroek newspaper dated December 14th 2001, a similar comment was made, so it is time to tell you the story of the black box, it needs to be buried anyway.

    In that letter Griffith obviously a complete fool, if he exists, declares that television was in Guyana many years before Vieira started his television station, since we used to receive signals from Suriname, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Brazil etc, and that I had said, that unless everyone accepts that I am the TV pioneer of Guyana I will return my medal of service for pioneering Television in this country.

   I would like to ask Mr. Griffith the date I made that ridiculous statement, Let me put this plainly ladies and gentlemen, some people do not understand subtleties, Mr. Griffith is a liar, I never made any such statement. And I actually do not care. Installing the first transmitter was a joke and was set up within 24 hours after its arrival in Guyana. The dish took one and a half years to conceptualize, research and to build, the Berbice expansion took three years, The Evening News took 8 months to organise, format and put it on the air, those were the hardest projects I ever did, not the transmitter.

    Ladies and gentlemen I now come to the black box, the only perceived black mark against me and which is exploited from time to time by anyone who wishes to discredit me.

   In 1982 I was the Administrative Manager of Versailles Sugar Estate, I became fed up driving over the bridge daily, to borrow Video tapes from friends and family, even then my love for the TV tube knew no bounds and there were not enough tapes to satisfy my insatiable appetite for this sort of entertainment.

 After doing some research helped by Mr. Michael Welch then General Manager of Telecoms, I decided that there had to be some alternative, I approached the Guyana Telecommunications Corporation and with the cooperation of Welch and Mr. Lambert Philadelphia I BORROWED a 36 foot Tropo dish which was not being used and set it up to receive US programming. To the utter astonishment of everyone including me, it worked perfectly and I started taping for my family and friends who were delighted that they no longer had to pay to have tapes recorded and shipped from the US. I had no interest whatsoever in becoming a television Broadcaster at that time.

    One day I recorded some major event at 6 am, I believe that it was the invasion of Grenada and sent it to my father at Houston, by 10 am the same day Mr. Hamilton Green the then Vice President for Communications so all of this fell within his portfolio, called me, he had seen the tape and he wanted to know how I got it so quickly. He said that he will be coming over the river shortly to do political work in the West Bank and he will come and see this dish, I explained, I had used to receive the signal.

   When Hammie saw the 4-ton monster dish with its 40 ton foundation required for receiving the signal he decided that putting one at his house was out of the question and he asked me how he could receive this signal. I explained that the only way was for me to transmit it to him.

    Now ladies and gentlemen this is 1982 the declaration of Sophia was already made, the constitution was already changed and the country was on a socialist path so BROADCASTING a US based signal to everyone here was out of the question, especially with the US advertising contained in it, since everyone here was lining up for everything, even cooking oil.   

    I was then told by Hammie that IF I can find a way to restrict the reception, to a wireless cable type system, I could go ahead and transmit the signal, BUT I was encouraged to do IT.

    Ladies and gentlemen if we had initiated an open broadcast in this country in 1982 to the general public, Prime Minister Ptolomy Reid and the socialist PNC cabinet would have shut it down the next day. Even after we started with this wireless cable broadcast, the matter came up at every cabinet meeting for nearly a year until President Forbes Burnham got fed up of the matter and granted not only me but Rex Mc Kay permission to broadcast, but for that entire year after every cabinet meeting, I expected a call telling me to shut it down and that it was important to keep it restricted.

     When Mc Kay came on the air I was left with the black box. I had spent too much time and money setting up the scrambling system to change it, so I was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Trust me ladies and gentlemen you do not want to be left in such a position.

   Unfortunately Rex's attempt to secure his signal was not successful, I know that everyone thinks that Mc Kay began broadcasting fully to the public but it is common knowledge among us broadcasters that his attempt to secure his signal with the Jerrold decoder was not successful and he decided to transmit it without security and I quote him "to give something back to the people of the country" he told me so personally several times, fortunately for me Rex did not broadcast 24 hours per day at first, so we made some progress with subscriptions, by 1990 with Mr. Hoyte's economic recovery program, the economy showed that it could support the cost of television broadcasting through advertising, so the scrambling was finally abandoned.

   Now remember that Rex Mc Kay was and is a wealthy man, the country's most successful attorney, so his broadcast was not an economic venture for him at that time but I personally did not have his resources so I had to recover my costs. Rex Mc Kay gave back millions of dollars to the people of this country subsidizing his broadcast from his own pocket for over eight years, something that the people of this country have never really understood or given him the credit and the praise he deserves for it.

  When the production of advertising finally reached critical mass and Rex could then recover some of the money which he had subsidized his transmission with for all of those years, others were allowed to come on the air and reap the benefit of his philanthropy, and yes I was angry at being left in that ridiculous position and said so many times but the direction of my anger was never understood, to be the first, I HAD to agree to have a restricted broadcast. There will always be cable systems which will only be available to those who can afford it.  

   After regulation is introduced in Guyana, cable systems will inevitably materialize. There are cable systems in Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, [which is government owned and which is wireless] I don't think that there is a single Caribbean Island which does not have a cable system with multiple channels. Wired and wireless. So there is nothing elitist about it.

     Mr. Hamilton Green or anyone who was in the PNC cabinet in 198/83 can confirm that every word I tell you here is the truth. Vieira was only the instrument; the REAL pioneer of television is Mr. Hamilton Green. He should get the medal. The battle was not to get the signal on the air, that was the easy part, the real battle was to handle the political fall out from doing so. Senior people at the US embassy in 1983 told me that what I was doing for US interest in this country far outweighed what their own embassy here was doing, my medal should be for restraint above and beyond the call of human nature, for being left up the creek with that black box to the everlasting infamy of my name. Ladies and gentlemen I am not a fool some people even think that I would have done much better financially, had I embarked on some other type of business in 1982. I believe that they may just be right.  

   So Griffith what is NOT up for public debate is that the first television transmitter broadcasting a signal on a daily basis to the public in Guyana as restricted as it was made to be, for political reasons, was located at Versailles, West Bank, Demerara, from a tower located in my yard with a signal from a dish which I BUILT, also located there, and opened the way for all future broadcasts.