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Broadcasting Amendment Bill passed after lengthy debate

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Delivering closing arguments on the Broadcast Amendment Bill, 2017, Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo lamented that political and personal interests hi-jacked the process by the Parliamentary Opposition. He noted that the premise that the amendments violate the law are unmeritorious and there are features in the act that needed to be enlarged and put flesh to what obtained.

Years ago, he said, it was recognised that there was need to bring control over what was described by many notable media personalities as a “Wild west jungle.” The former Broadcast Authority, was initialised by the government and chaired by Leonard Craig and other well know personalities.

The Prime Minister started by tackling the guidelines of the Principle Act. It is the Authority and not the Prime Minister, he clarified that will make and enforce the regulations. It is the afore mentioned body, he added, hence, “It would be an unruly horse that has bolted from the stable of reason that would make such aspersions.” The Board held several consultations, in 2016, with broadcast operators, he reminded the House, contrary to what was being peddled by the Opposition.

The Prime Minister also struck down arguments that media entities had not applied under the PPP government. He listed Stabroek News and Kaieteur News as two entities which were refused broadcast licenses unlike those granted to the friends and cronies of the former President Jagdeo. The absence of the Opposition Leader, was also cited by the Prime Minister as evidence of his inability to face the House for what transpired under his leadership.

He also thanked members of the second board, which is currently in place for work done thus far. The new move has given confidence to media entities, such as CNS Channel 6, whose proprietrix Savitri Sharma indicated today that the entity has no problem reapplying for a license since it was part of the effort to regularise the broadcast landscape, the prime minister said.

He further stated that the amendment merely covers and expands what is already contained in the Principal Act, including provision for seizing equipment etcetera. In closing, he lauded his side of the House and even the opposing side, noting, “Opposing does not mean grandstanding however.” He urged that they work together for the good of all, “It is relevant that when we come to the National Assembly, we come not as warriors but we come as builders to help construct a strong society.”

Supporting the passage of the Broadcast Bill, Attorney General(AG) and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams, SC stated that it was fully sound in law, “It will create a level playing field and put an end to the discrimination in the sector…We will usher in the era of fairness.” The AG further questioned, “How could you pass legislation and when you go out of power, say it is unconstitutional?” He reminded that government has never brought any unconstitutional bill before the House, hence the Opposition that created the Act needed to be more circumspect. “I support the honorable prime minster’s efforts to clean up this Bill”, he said in closing.

Following him was Opposition MP Anil Nandlall, who opined that despite the talk of granting licenses, no aggrieved person has approached the courts to address this issue.

He included the note by the Guyana Press Association which stated that the mandatory 60-minute time requested by government for matters of interest to the nation, was akin to becoming a defacto programme manager. He added, “The right to publish, includes the right not to publish.”

Opposition Chief Whip Teixeira deemed the bill as reckless and an infringement on freedom of speech.

The Bill was read for a second time after a division of the House which resulted in 33 for and 23 against, the amendments.

The opposition Leader, Bharat Jagdeo’s distribution of radio licenses and frequencies resulted in widespread criticism from several persons, organisations and groups including veteran broadcaster and journalist Enrico Woolford, who had moved to the court to have the distributed licenses revoked. (DPI)

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