A group of private broadcasters believes the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) has no legal basis to demand them to clear arrears dating back three years ago.
According to a body called the Guyana Media Association (GMA), the High Court in 2014 had quashed a decision by the government through the GNBA to demand a fee of $.25 million from broadcasters.
The Department of Public Information (DPI) on Saturday reported that the Authority is working with broadcasters to get them 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.
But the GMA is arguing that the High Court ruled that broadcasters do not have to make that payment.
“It is this Association’s understanding that the Authority is making the demand for these back payments on the basis of fees set under a court-overturned regulation which was instituted by the past administration. The fees set were successfully overturned by a court decision handed down by Chief Justice Ian Chang on May 9, 2014 and an absolute order was made on that date,” the body expressed in a statement.
News Room understands that some broadcasters, despite the ruling, still paid the fees being requested while others refused to do so.
The court decision follows an action by four existing broadcasters to challenge the imposition of $2.5 million in fees which represented a 1000% increase and would allow for financial ruin. The Broadcasting Act, as noted in the decision, allows for a fee ‘which shall be a sum equivalent to such percentage of the gross revenue of the licensee as the Minister may by regulations prescribe.’ The Association argued that this does not allow for the imposition of a fee to be prescribed by the Minister under an option where if the percentage of the gross is less than $2.5 million, the Authority will ask for the greater sum of $2.5 million, as being demanded.
In his decision on May 9, 2014, the Chief Justice examined the sections in the Broadcasting Act distinguishing between a grant fee for a new licence and an annual fee.
The Chief Justice in his decision stated the Authority’s reliance on regulations which were published on November 29th, 2013 in the Official Gazette. This set out the demand of $2.5 if it is greater than a gross percentage. Chief Justice Chang went on to rule that while the relevant section empowers the Minister to make regulations on grant fees, such a fee ‘would, of necessity, apply only to first-time broadcasters and not to existing broadcasters.’
The Chief Justice, in granting the order in favour of the existing broadcasters, stated: It goes without saying that an annual fee based on a percentage of gross revenue of the previous year cannot apply to a first-time broadcaster and can apply only to existing broadcasters. On the other hand, a grant fee of $2.5 million cannot apply to existing broadcasters and can apply only to first-time broadcasters. He further ruled that the ‘grant fee of $2.5 million has no application to the applicants as existing broadcasters.’
The Broadcasting Act 2011 required existing broadcasters to re-apply for their licences within 30 days which they complied with. An Amendment which was passed in 2017 duplicates this requirement by asking existing broadcasters to again reapply within 30 days. Local and regional media associations have also challenged the requirement of allocation free time of 60 minutes for public service broadcasting imposed in the Amendment and defined in the Amendment to include the promotion of ‘policies and activities of the government that benefits the public as a whole.’ International Press bodies among others have urged the President David Granger not to assent to the amendment with Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), aka Reporters Without Borders urging for ‘“consultations with broadcasters, in order to take into account their recommendations.”