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Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, flanked by GNBA CEO, Dr. Prudence Lewis-Bhola (right) and the Board Chairman, Leslie Sobers (left), along with other Directors of the Board, including PPP executive, Bibi Shadick (Photo by Delano Williams)

…PM says it corrects loopholes in principal act

THE Guyana Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) has thrown its full support behind the Broadcast (Amendment) Bill, with its Chairman Attorney-at-law, Leslie Sobers assuring that the 60 minutes airtime, daily, for public service programmes was not unreasonable.

These sentiments were expressed when the Prime Minister, who has responsibility for Public Information, attended a special meeting of the Authority at their Lamaha Street office. The Prime Minister also reiterated that the 60 minutes airtime, daily, for public service programmes will not be limited to the government, emphasising that the Broadcast (Amendment) Bill, when enacted, will create an opportunity for “enterprising” individuals and organisations to produce air informative programmes that are in the public’s interest.

The Prime Minister explained that Public Service Announcements or programmes can be submitted to GNBA or a body created by GNBA to be aired by television and radio operators. “In other words you are not leaving it to the Government to create 60 minutes broadcasting content or 10 minutes or 5 minutes, you can open it to all enterprising people who are there,” Prime Minister Nagamootoo stated.

He suggested that a special fund be set up by GNBA to assist producers in the production of Public Service Programmes, noting that they should be required to apply in order to access the funds.

“Whether it is a programme they may wish to produce in a particular way in a particular format to deal with suicide prevention, to deal with the hazard of smoking, alcohol abuse,” he suggested. It was noted that the broadcasting landscape should be one built on Public Private Partnerships.

The Prime Minister’s meeting with GNBA on the Public Service Programmes comes at a time when the Broadcast (Amendment) Bill, is currently on the President David Granger’s desk awaiting his assent.
Prime Minister said the amendment addresses the loopholes that were in substantial Act, which states that a certain percentage of broadcast time shall be made available for public broadcasting. “So there was no cap, there was no cap to it. There was no limit to how much that certain percentage would constitute and we thought that any Law should be certain,” he stated.

Mr Nagamootoo further stated that Kit Nascimento, in the 1970s, had developed a concept called “Development Support Communication (DSC), which was later integrated into a programme at the University of Guyana to be taught as a subject [course]. “I found it very interesting that the post-Nascimento recommendations were incorporated in the 2011 Act,” he further stated.

Prime Minister Nagamootoo identified that there is a difference “between government information and government provided information and party propaganda”. He noted that “no station private or public” should be required or mandated to carry party political propaganda. He said the GNBA needs to assure the Guyanese people that its understanding of public broadcasting content is not synonymous with political party propaganda.

Additionally, the Prime Minister told the board members that clarity is needed on the number of companies that have not paid their annual license fees since 2016, as this renders them unlicensed and vulnerable under the law. “I would like that at this meeting with you, whether or not the payment of fees would have meant that any action would have been taken in regards to the assigned frequencies; because there is a requirement under law that all persons, legal person that is licensed to operate must pay a fee. I need to be informed by this Authority what is the status of those entities that have not paid their fees and have been operating”, Prime Minister Nagamootoo said.

Also the amount licensed operators are required to pay was discussed. The Prime Minister said the previous regulation had stipulated a certain amount in the fee structure. He explained that there was an alternative that they either pay the base fee or 3.5 percent of Gross revenues. He asked to be advised on whether licensees had stated a profit or if they were declaring losses because, “it means that the computation of 3.5 percent would have to be defined, whether it was intended to be growth gross or net gross, because I heard in the National Assembly that if broadcasters were to go with the one-hour public service broadcasting they will suffer the loss of millions of dollars because their revenue is computed on a fix sum of $30,000 per hour”, he pointed out.

The Prime Minister urged board members to earnestly pursue the matter to ascertain the actual amount operators were earning when they do not disclose gross earnings; since this means the Authority is being cheated out of revenues it is entitled to under the law.

Reasonable recommendation
Chairman of the GNBA, Attorney-at-law, Leslie Sobers, also used the opportunity to assure the Prime Minister that the 60 minutes airtime, daily, for public service programmes was not unreasonable.

“I want to assure you PM that our 60 minutes advice is not unreasonable. In Barbados their legislation dictates one second for every broadcast minute to be allocated to PSAs, and when you accumulate it, it works out to about two hours per day. In Trinidad and Tobago, their authority asks for 14 hours per week…on average that amounts to two hours per day as well,” Sobers pointed out.

He emphasized that GNBA is not unreasonable in its request. Board Director, Dr. Rovin Deodat, echoed similar sentiments as the Prime Minister, noting that it is not just the Government that will have the opportunity to broadcast PSAs.

President David Granger weighing in on the subject on Wednesday, asked critics of the bill to be more aware of the peculiar nature of Guyana and the need to ensure that all communities have access to information. He said the Bill does not prevent any media outlet from fulfilling its constitutional obligations and the government has an obligation to ensure, via the media, that the entire country is aware of what is going on.

Acknowledging that there are some aspects of the Bill that have caused concern, the Head of State told media operatives Wednesday at State House that a lot of thought went into crafting the bill. He noted that Cabinet’s support of the Bill was the reason why government went to Parliament. “Guyana is a very thinly populated country and the population density is about a few persons per square kilometer and most of the media houses are concentrated on the coastland and in the city of Georgetown, so there are huge areas of our country without media coverage,” President Granger explained.

“We need to ensure that we walk on two legs and the private media have my support and I will always support freedom of communication, but we have an obligation to ensure that all corners of the country receive public information about what is taking place in terms of public health, public infrastructure, and public security.”

He said if the population is unaware of what is happening in certain sections of Guyana because the media is concentrated in Georgetown; there will be a deficit in the flow of information.

Article by Guyana Chronicle