By Devina Samaroo
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has snubbed the concerns of major stakeholders including private broadcasters, who believe the amendments to the broadcasting legislation will have grave implications on press freedom in Guyana.
Nagamootoo dubbed the Broadcasting Amendment Bill 2017 as “revolutionary and progressive”, arguing that it frees “innocent broadcasters” from the existing law.
He explained that the amendments which he introduced brings clarity to the existing law as it now defines what constitutes a public service programme and outlines a time frame and limit for such programmes to be broadcast.
According to Nagamootoo, the existing Broadcasting Bill is “uncapped” as it relates to the requirement for broadcasters to air public service programmes.
“It could be any amount of percentage, any amount of time to be arrogated by the State for what it considered to be public service broadcast so we decided in this government that we would lend clarity to the law and we’ll lend certainty to the law by freeing up broadcasters from being held hostage to a law that says you have to give public broadcasting time for any undefined period,” he asserted.
A group of private broadcasters had written the Prime Minister asking that he defer the debate on the Bill to facilitate consultations. The broadcasters, along with the parliamentary opposition and the Guyana Press Association (GPA), are of the view that the legal mandate to broadcast public service programmes as defined by the bill for one hour per day goes against the spirit of press freedom.
When asked by reporters to comment on the concerns of the broadcasters, Nagamootoo ran from the media repeating the words “no comment” on Thursday before the sitting of the National Assembly.
The GPA on Wednesday issued a statement supporting the broadcasters, saying that it was seeking legal advice “to convince the government of the need to halt or reverse this process given the severe consequences these amendments pose to freedom of the press in Guyana and the commercial viability of private radio and television stations.”
The GPA noted that the amendments essentially introduce an unwarranted “programme manager” position by the State in the daily schedules of radio and television stations.
“The overall provision for the allocation of 60 minutes for public service programmes will disrupt and violate contractual obligations that stations will have with advertisers and programme sponsors,” the GPA stated.
The Association said it was understandable that private broadcasters should play roles during emergencies and disasters including matters of public health, but the GPA opposed the actual allocation of times or the need to inform the authority about this or for the authority to dictate time slots if it does not agree with those allocated by the stations.