By: Devina Samaroo
While President David Granger is yet to assent to the Broadcasting Amendment Bill 2017, the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) has reported to the Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo that broadcasters have accepted the changes to the law.
The Parliament Office of Guyana had confirmed that the President received the Bill on August 9 but the Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs told News Room Saturday that the Constitution of Guyana is silent on the deadline for the President to grant his assent.
Article 170 (2) of the Constitution states “When a Bill is presented to the President for assent, he or she shall signify that he or she assents or that he or she withholds assent.”
This section further explained that where the President decided to withhold his assent, he or she has 21 days of the date it was received in which to return the Bill to the parliament with a message outlining reasons for not assenting.
However, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall argued that “while it may be silent on the time when the assent of the President is to be granted or withheld, that part of the particular article uses the word ‘shall’, ‘the President shall assent or shall withhold his assent’. ‘Shall’ in that context is mandatory and it implies some degree of immediacy.”
Nandlall, in an invited comment, explained that if there is undue delay then the mandatory command of the Constitution is being defeated.
“When you interpret the Constitution, one is obliged to find the intention of the framers. They certainly could not have intended for the President to have a Bill on his desk for a protracted period of time,” he stated.
Nandlall posited that the President is required to act with every convenient speed and that failure to do so would be unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, according to the statement from the Department of Public Information (DPI), GNBA told Nagamootoo that it met with several broadcasters and none of them “expressed disagreement with the sixty (60) minutes time allocation for PSA”.
However, a number of private broadcasters have been up in arms since the passage of the bill and have been calling for an audience with the relevant authorities in government to address their concerns with the changes to the country’s broadcasting laws.
The DPI said the GNBA Chairman Leslie Sobers, in the letter dated September 8, also stated that the Authority “fully supports the Amendments as passed by the National Assembly in August 2017” and that the board “has formally tabled a motion” to communicate same to the Prime Minister.
Further, the GNBA updated Nagamootoo that meetings with broadcasters will continue and that the number of compliant broadcasters has doubled from 6 to 12 from July 2017 to the September 8th, 2017.
DPI said the Prime Minister expressed satisfaction that broadcasters were being pro-active in seeking to clear their arrears as of December 2016 in an effort to ensure that they are in a state of compliance in preparation for possible licensing in 2017.
Even before the passage of the Bill, private broadcasters protested some of the changes and raised concerns regarding the implications it would have on their finances and press freedom.
International and local organizations including the Guyana Press Association subsequently condemned the amendments to the broadcasting laws, expressing similar concerns about financial implications and infringement on press freedom.
President Granger, however, had disregarded those concerns and maintained that the Broadcasting Amendment Bill was necessary.
The two main contentious issues of the Bill are the requirements to air public service programmes for 60 minutes every day for free and for their licences to be terminated with immediate effect, thus forcing them to reapply within 30 days without guarantees of regaining their licence or receiving the same spectrum.
News Room understands that private broadcasters who are against the changes to the broadcasting laws are waiting for the President to assent to the Bill in order to commence legal proceedings against it.