Nag­amootoo pleads ig­no­rance

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Min­is­ter Moses Nag­amootoo, who is in charge with the broad­cast­ing sec­tor, could not say whether the re­cently passed Broad­cast­ing Amend­ment Bill 2017, has been signed into law.

The Chron­i­cle re­ported on Septem­ber 10, 2017, that the Pres­i­dent David Granger has as­sented to the Bill, ef­fec­tively mak­ing the con­tentious pro­vi­sions en­force­able. How­ever, on Septem­ber 9, the Depart­ment of Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion headed by Im­ran Khan re­leased a state­ment ex­plic­itly stat­ing that the Pres­i­dent has not yet as­sented to the Bill.

When asked for a clar­i­fi­ca­tion on Monday, the Prime Min­is­ter pleaded ig­no­rance.

When asked if he is not in charge of the broad­cast­ing sec­tor, Nag­amootoo said he would pre­fer for the Pres­i­dent to make a pro­nounce­ment on the mat­ter.

The last pub­lished gazette was on Septem­ber 9 and it does not con­tain de­tails of the Pres­i­dent’s as­sent to the Broad­cast­ing Bill.

De­spite mas­sive protest from the pri­vate broad­cast­ers, Govern­ment hur­riedly passed the Bill in the Na­tional Assem­bly be­fore the Au­gust re­cess.

In­ter­na­tional and lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions have con­demned the Bill and urged the Pres­i­dent to with­hold his con­sent to al­low con­sul­ta­tions with broad­cast­ers who stand to lose big once the Bill be­comes law.

The con­tentious amend­ments in­clude a pro­vi­sion re­quir­ing pri­vate broad­cast­ers to al­lo­cate, free of charge, up to 60 min­utes of pub­lic ser­vice pro­gram­ming daily. Ad­di­tion­ally, the law would re­quire all cur­rent broad­cast li­cense hold­ers to reap­ply within 30 days or lose their right to broad­cast.

While the Guyana Press As­so­ci­a­tion (GPA) said it agreed that pri­vate broad­cast­ers should play a role dur­ing emer­gen­cies and dis­as­ters, it high­lighted the fact that the amend­ment would give au­thor­i­ties the abil­ity to dic­tate time slots if they did not agree with the ones al­lo­cated by sta­tions. Fur­ther­more, the new leg­is­la­tion leaves the fre­quency and con­tent of pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments to the dis­cre­tion of the Govern­ment.

The changes de­fine a pub­lic ser­vice broad­cast as “the broad­cast of a pro­gramme pro­duced for the pur­pose of in­form­ing and ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic, and pro­mot­ing poli­cies and ac­tiv­i­ties of the Govern­ment that ben­e­fit the pub­lic as a whole”.

The broad­casts, which also in­clude time for pres­i­den­tial ad­dresses and dis­as­ter warn­ings, are to be al­lo­cated be­tween 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

Op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers in Guyana have slammed the amend­ments. For­mer Pres­i­dent, Mr. Bhar­rat Jagdeo, now Leader of the Op­po­si­tion and Gen­eral Sec­re­tary of the Peo­ple’s Pro­gres­sive Party ( PPP), dubbed the changes “a threat to press free­dom” and said they would force broad­cast­ers to air Govern­ment pro­pa­ganda.

On Friday, PPP/C MP, Ms. Gail Teix­eira de­scribed the bill as “reck­less, un­demo­cratic in con­tent, and an in­fringe­ment on the rights of peo­ple”.

For­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral, Mr. Mo­habir Anil Nand­lall also warned that the Bill has se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions for broad­cast­ing en­ti­ties and can re­sult in the loss of jobs for many per­sons if op­er­a­tors do not get back their li­cense. (Guyana Times)

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