Tony Vieira's Comments
22 October 2017

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ACB Functioning
(Aired 20 June 2011)

     The Advisory Committee on Broadcasting was established on 15th November, 2001 as a semi-autonomous body, pursuant to regulations made under the Guyana Post and Telegraph Act, Chapter 47:01.

   The law states that the ACB will comprise a chairman and two members, the chairman nominated by Guyana's President, one member nominated by the leader of the Opposition, and the third by the Private Sector. It does not say Private Sector Commission. Its tenure extends until the establishment of a Broadcasting Authority. The general understanding was that the Committee would advise on appropriate action in cases of violations of the conditions of the licence which is in fact the role usually performed by a Broadcasting Authority. The recommendations for amendment to the Wireless Telegraphy Regulations under Section 63 of the Post and Telegraph Act, Chapter 47:01 were made by the joint committee on Radio Monopoly, Non-Partisan Boards and Broadcasting Legislation.

    At the signing in the Credentials Room at the Office of the President, the Head of State and Mr Hoyte agreed that Prime Minister Sam Hinds, who was the responsible minister under the Act, will amend the regulations to provide for the appointment of the advisory committee on broadcasting.

    The committee is to advise Mr Hinds on compliance by television station licensees, terms and conditions of licences and recommend appropriate action in the event of failure to comply. The body will discharge other related functions.

According to the memorandum, the Prime Minister, in the execution of his power pursuant to the Act and the Wireless Telegraphy Regulations made thereunder with respect to television station licences, will act in accordance with advice from the committee. I want to repeat this since it is important he will act in accordance with the recommendations of the advice of the committee.

    All of this was due to the insistence of Desmond Hoyte that his party, the People's National Congress/Reform, was concerned with the fact that the Prime Minister was the sole arbitrator who made the decisions to oversee whether television stations were complying with the rules and that there should have been installed an independent body to advise him with the clear understanding that he would accept this advice"

   So the understanding was that the minister can only act when advised to do so by the advisory committee on Broadcasting. And to the best of my knowledge PM Sam Hinds never abused this privilege. So we come to the 26th February 2008 the minster is no longer Mr Sam Hinds it has now been brought under the portfolio of Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo.

  On 26th February Mr C.N. Sharma received a letter from the ACB advising him that his ‘voice of the people' programme aired on 21st February 2008 contained some statements which were damaging to Jagdeo.  The letter from the ACB, signed by Chairman Mr. Pat Dyal, gave Sharma 3 days to give his position in respect of this transgression/infringement. On 28th February 2008 C.N. Sharma wrote the ACB he told Mr. Dyal that he regretted the comments made by the caller and that taped evidence at his station will show that he reprimanded the caller for making such irresponsible statements on the air, and that he will do his best to prevent repetition.

Two days later on 29th February 2008 the chairman of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting Mr Dyal wrote C.N. Sharma in which Dyal states that the ACB accepts Sharma's apology and notes that he will install a delay device to prevent a recurrence of the matter in these live shows. And in the last paragraph Chairman of the ACB Dyal says this and I quote him "there would be no further action in respect of the alleged infringement as mentioned in our letter of 26th February 2008" end quote.

   The matter should have ended there, but then Sharma received the following letter from the ACB, ladies and gentlemen you have to listen to this stupidity carefully to see how this government operates; the letter to Sharma dated 10th March 2008 from Dyal stated that since the previous letter to the station dated 26th February 2008 on the infringement of content in his programme of the 21st February 2008, it was reported that C.N.S. 6 replayed the programme on 22nd and 23rd February 2008 and that the ACB is reopening the case since they consider it a new infringement since Sharma could have edited out the part which the ACB considered an infringement and requested that within three days Sharma give them an answer to these new infringements. Now remember that these extra playings happened on 22nd and 23rd February, before the ACB wrote the first letter to Sharma on the 26th February advising him that in their opinion what happened was a gross infringement of his license.

  By letter dated March 28th 2008 Sharma tells the ACB reasonably that he was not aware of the transgression until the ACB wrote him on 26th March, so as is the usual practice the programme was re-aired in 22nd and 23rd but that since 26th when he got the first letter from the ACB, the offending programme was never aired again. Now ladies and gentlemen all of this is now bordering on pantomime, the ACB is telling Sharma that he aired a programme with content which they find objectionable and that Sharma should have known in advance that they would take offence and not replay it as was customary before he received their letter pointing out the infringement for which they later forgave him after he explained the exigencies of the situation to them. Sharma never received a response from the ACB to his letter asking them how he was supposed to know that it would be considered a transgression before they wrote him and told him so. It is my information that Mr. Dyal was removed from the ACB shortly after.

   Instead C.N. Sharma received a letter from Roger Luncheon under the office of the President letterhead dated 7th April 2008 advising him [Sharma] that his letters to the ACB explaining his actions were not adequate and that he should come into the Office of the President on 10th April 2008 to meet him [Luncheon] to show cause why his license should not be cancelled  or suspended.

    From this moment on, the government was in violation of the law, since they removed the ACB from the equation and they were now going to conduct and illegal inquisition, in the absence of the ACB, and take action to suspend or to revoke Sharma's license without it being recommended by the ACB, a completely unlawful procedure.

    Its happening again. This time I have been following the correspondence carefully at Sharma's station, the ACB wrote him about the Edghill matter and he responded but the ACB has never given him their decision, instead Sharma is invited to participate in the same pantomime of going to Jagdeo's office for him to investigate the matter, in this entire matter the ACB has never given Sharma a decision, which stated what penalty they were going to recommend to the minister concerned i.e. to suspend, fine of revoke his license, he has already been invited to one meeting at the office of the President at which Jagdeo and attorney General Ramson met Sharma and his wife to conduct an investigation of the matter. All of this is again totally unlawful how are we the ordinary men and women in this country supposed to adhere to the law, when at the highest forum of the land it is being violated daily by the executive. In the mean time the legality of the ACB has been challenged by the opposition which filed and obtained an injunction restraining the ACB from functioning since they are alleging that they had written the President withdrawing their nominee from the ACB since 2003, to which he never responded, so at this time the ACB is non functional until the Judge removes the injunction! Jagdeo is now saying that he doesn't care, since the ACB which the PNC has challenged as being illegal since 2003 had already given him their recommendation as to what must be done to Sharma before the injunction was issued by the Judge; but given the time line of this matter, that would have been impossible since the ACB have never replied to Sharma telling him what penalty it is that they are recommending to the Minister as they are supposed to do. And if the ACB had made a recommendation to Jagdeo the law says that he should simply implement their recommendation, why must he now conduct this illegal farce of an investigation with Ramson in his office?

This same Jagdeo said the following at the date of the signing the memorandum of understanding setting up the ACB in November 2008 and I quote him "[As Mr. Hoyte has said] in every modern society, radio and television must operate within a regulatory framework in a neutral manner. This is exactly our thinking on the matter too. We recognise that to administer any broadcast legislation, you will have to have an independent committee that would be seen as clear and impartial for it to have any credibility so that when they make decisions (these) will be widely accepted by the public"

Remember ladies and gentlemen Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.