By Devina Samaroo
Just one week after its first reading in the National Assembly, the contentious Broadcasting Bill 2017 with its sweeping changes was passed by a significant majority, but private broadcasters are contemplating legal action against the legislation which has grave financial, economic and social implications on its operations.
Former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall told reporters during a news conference on Saturday that he has already advised a number of private broadcasters to file for a conservatory order to block the law from taking force on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
He explained that the broadcasters have expressed an interest in doing so and many of them who met with the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) are already engaging their lawyers on the possibility of seeking redress through the courts.
Some of those broadcasters had also written Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo for consultations on the worrying amendments. They included CNS TV6, TVG 28/89.5 FM, MBC CH 93, and MTV. The Prime Minister however never responded.
Nandlall explained that any person aggrieved by the Bill has the right to approach the court and obtain a conservatory order to stop the Act from taking force on the ground that it is unconstitutional, ask the court to strike down each provision that is unconstitutional and then ask for damages for breach of constitutional rights.
According to the Broadcasting Bill which is now awaiting presidential assent, all licence holders will immediately lose their property once the Bill becomes law and they face the risk of not ever getting back the licence without any form of compensation from the government. Broadcasting operators also face the risk of having their spectrum altered, without a cent of reimbursement from the State.
“If they decide to issue you with a licence they now have a freedom to alter your spectrum, so the reach you had, you aren’t guaranteed to get it back and if I alter your space then I am reducing the value of your property and you aren’t getting any compensation and you are now required to pay a whole host of additional fees for less spectrum space,” Nandlall explained.
Another controversial issue of the Bill is the requirement for all private broadcasters to air one hour of public service programmes for free. Nandlall argued that not only does this imposition go against the spirit of press freedom, but it also has financial consequences for operators.
Assuming that broadcasters charge $30,000 per hour during peak time for a programme on television or radio, they will now be losing $850,000 per month as a result of the requirement to broadcast government programmes for free.
“They are picking your pocket! That again is compulsory acquiring your property without compensation,” Nandlall decried.
Furthermore, in the event an existing broadcaster does not receive a licence after it was revoked then the livelihoods of persons are at stake.
The PPP parliamentarian lamented that during the debates on the Broadcasting Amendment Bill, not a single member on the government benches addressed those concerns.
In fact, he chastised the government for “ramming the bill through the throat of the parliament” without allowing adequate time for stakeholders to understand the proposed amendments and have meaningful consultations with the lawmakers.