Tony Vieira's Comments
22 October 2017

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The National Broadcasting Bill 2003
(Aired 7 November 2003)

    After the 2001 elections and the violence that accompanied it, the President of this country invited the leader of the opposition to a process of dialog. I have told you repeatedly that there were gross deceptions in this process of dialog. And tonight I will break the silence and tell you about the Broadcast Bill which is currently before the public and which has been condemned by the broadcasters, the press association, the opposition and the Guyana Human Rights Association, among others.

   This bill does not seek to regulate broadcasting it seeks to control it, to tell us what we must or must not say, what offends against good taste etc. this is called prior censorship and is unacceptable. Freedom of expression constitutes one the essential foundations of a democratic society. It is applicable not only to information and ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democracy. These are not my words ladies and gentlemen these are the words contained in the judgement of the European court of Human Rights of 26th November 2001, series A, No. 217. The two exceptions to this right to free expression are 1. There must be respect of the rights or reputations of others and 2. Due care must be taken in broadcasts to protect national security, or public order, or public health, or morals.

    So all of this fair and balanced, with due accuracy nonsense which is currently attached to my broadcast license, and amended and appended to the broadcast regulations are in conflict with much of the freedoms of speech we are guaranteed by our Constitution and so they will have to go. I am suggesting to the other Broadcasters that we should challenge it in a court of law before we pay one more cent in broadcasting fees. It has and is interfering with our right to freedom of speech, especially when executed by a politicised Advisory Committee on Broadcasting.

   Having agreed to this Dialog, a Bi-partisan Board on broadcasting was set up where senior executive members and advisors of both the PPP and the PNC worked for months holding public hearings and discussion and submitted a report, this report was agreed to by both the PPP and the PNC through their nominees of this board, if I am not mistaken the chairman of this board was Gail Texeria and co chairman Derek Bernard. The question before the public now, is, who had the effrontery to change all that was agreed to by this Bi-Partisan board and write the nonsense and departures from it as contained in this draft Bill currently before us?

    The recommendations of the Bi-partisan board should have formed the foundation of the Broadcast Bill, it was after all what the two major parties agreed on, but it does not, since there are numerous areas of gross departure between what the Bi-partisan board agreed to and what is contained in this bill. And here are a few examples. 

1. The Bi-partisan report gave no role to the President in the selection of members of the National Broadcasting Authority nor did they identify any nominating organisations in the process. The Bi-partisan board visualised the Parliamentary Committee on Appointments to make the appointments to the Authority and submit those names to the President for appointment. The Bill on the other hand seeks to give the President several names from which he will select members.

2. The termination of members of this authority is at variance with the country's constitutional provisions concerning the removal of constitutional commissioners, which is clearly spelt out in article 225 of the constitution, the Bill specifically seeks to create a group of insecure persons who are not autonomous and who can be removed by Sam Hinds or Jagdeo at any time, for almost any reason.

3. The functions and role of the NFMU is totally at variance with the agreements of the Bi-partisan committee and more importantly with the Communiqué. In the Communiqué the President and Mr. Corbin agreed that NFMU should act SOLELY in a technical and advisory role. This bill seeks to give the NFMU [which is completely controlled by the political Minister of Communications] the power to refuse to grant a frequency to anyone even if the Broadcast Authority gives them a license to broadcast. Also being under political control as it is, this NFMU can be used to harass any broadcaster if the Minister tells them to, using excuses such as technical standards etc. to do so.

4. The autonomous and independent nature of the broadcast authority is completely compromised by the numerous provisions contained in the Bill where the Minister of Communications can interfere with its work, and the numerous clauses where they have to consult with him, the Guyana Human Rights Association's analysis of this bill tells us that the powers of the government's influence on this Authority are unacceptably wide. Again pointing to control and not regulation.   

5. The issuance of radio licenses which the Bi-partisan Board specifically stated should be allocated to diverse groups are not reflected in the bill. The entire concept of diverse ownership of the radio spectrum has been left out of the Broadcast Bill, the Guyana Human rights Association puts it this way; the state has an obligation to take positive measures to promote the growth and development of broadcasting, and to ensure that it takes place in a manner which ensures maximum diversity...effective measures should be put in place to prevent undue concentration, and to promote diversity of ownership both within the broadcast sector and between broadcasting and other media sectors. Such measures should take into account the need for the broadcasting sector as a whole to develop and for broadcasting services to be economically viable.   

6. The joint committee did not agree that the Authority will have far reaching powers to set fines etc. so all of this nonsense of two hundred thousand dollars as fines and jail was never agreed to or even contemplated, the human rights people have condemned this now, The authority, will, after it begins to function decide within clearly outlined guidelines what the penalties will be for breaches to the license by fines and warnings but not jail.

7. The GHRA refers to the special role of the state media as identified in the Bill, and they are as confused as the rest of us as to what exactly this special role is? and how it agrees with the concept of fair competition which is expressly stated in the draft Bill, believe it or not ladies and gentlemen this draft bill seeks to take the broadcast fees set at 3% of our gross earnings and give it to GTV/GBC to upgrade their technical and other capabilities, but GTV/GBC will still be allowed to enter the market place and compete with private broadcasters for the limited advertising dollar. In other words this bill seeks to force the private broadcasters to buy the rope and present it to GTV/GBC with which those entities will hang them. Only people trained in the USSR or not at all could come up with this nonsense.

8. The Bi-partisan committee gave the National Broadcasting Authority the power to make regulations, set fees and terms of licenses etc., the Bill on the other hand gives those powers to the Minister.

9.  The questions of standards which have in fact not been addressed in the Bill should be laid out in the clearest possible terms by the authority and there will be the need for the Authority to inform and educate the broadcasters on what their obligations are. No such provisions are contained in the Bill.

10.  Payment and recovery of fees demanding a 3% of gross earnings never formed any part of the joint committee's agreements; in fact the joint committee was very specific in deciding and recommending that no undue financial burden should be imposed on licensees.

   What we have here is not an autonomous and independent Broadcast Authority, it is a creature of the Minister of Communications, it incredibly seeks to extort monies from  the private broadcasters, to subsidize GTV/GBC and seeks to concentrate broadcasting power in the hands of  loyal PPP comrades to silence the rest of us, it also has conditions for granting licenses which are vague, open to abuse and unacceptable according to the GHRA, it contravenes every Human rights covenant this country has ever signed, and is in complete conflict with what the bipartisan board agreed to during the dialog. It also conflicts with what Jagdeo and Corbin signed as agreements in the Communiqué.

   So much for decency and democracy. The thing should be thrown in the garbage along with the person who wrote it.