International and regional media organisations are urging President David Granger not to give assent to the Broadcasting Bill that was passed in the Guyana Parliament last weekend.
Speaking in the National Assembly last Friday, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo told legislators that the amendments sought to bring better guidelines to broadcasting.
He said the amendments now cover terrorist and racial language and ensure the public is more informed on national issues, while dismissing arguments from the Opposition People’s Progressive Party that it had provided licences to all those who had applied while the party formed the Government.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) yesterday urged Granger not to assent to the legislation and urged further consultation with broadcasters in order to take into account their recommendations.
It said the new Bill raises multiple press freedom concerns.
RSF said that the Government contends that the legislation is meant to address the issue of illegal broadcasters who have long been operating without a licence.
“Yet the Bill calls for all broadcasters to apply for a licence within 30 days of its entry into force, a time limit that is being criticised by local and regional press freedom groups as too short. Broadcasters found operating without a licence could be fined up to one million Guyanese dollars and sentenced to one year imprisonment,” the RSF said.
It quoted local press freedom advocates as saying “these burdensome provisions threaten the existence of many TV and radio stations who have operated without a licence since no renewals were ever issued at the time of their expiration”.
The RSF said that another point of contention is a provision mandating that 60 minutes of “public service programmes” be broadcast on TV and radio stations between the hours of 6:00 am and 10:00 pm free of cost, which has been heavily criticised by the Guyana Press Association.
“But what is most worrying about the Bill is its process of adoption, which involved no consultations with any broadcasters, even though repeated attempts were made to meet with Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo both leading up to and during parliamentary debate last week.
“Nagamootoo claims that broadcasters were consulted in 2011 when the original Bill was drafted, but the legislation adopted last Friday involved several amendments for which broadcasters were never given the opportunity to provide their input.”
The advocacy and communications director for RSF’s North America Bureau, Margau Ewen said that “it would appear that the legislative process in Guyana failed to adequately address broadcasters’ concerns regarding a new law that would impact their day to day operations and could even threaten their existence.
“RSF urges President Granger not to assent to this legislation until these concerns can be addressed through meaningful consultation.”
The Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) has also called for meetings between the President Granger and broadcasters saying “this is the best option to avoid what may be a protracted legal matter that would be unhelpful in achieving the desired objectives of the parties concerned”.
The International Press Institute (IPI) has also urged the Government to address the serious concerns raised by local media groups regarding the Bill.
“We are troubled that this Bill appears to have been drafted and passed without time for sufficient consultation with all relevant stakeholders, including Guyana’s private broadcasters and local civil society groups,” said IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M Ellis.
“Elements of this legislation – in particular provisions related to the broadcasting of public service content — also raise questions about the Government’s commitment to ensuring that Guyanese radio and television stations can operate independently from State and political control.
“We urge lawmakers to address those questions and revise these amendments as necessary,” he added.