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President assents to controversial Broadcast Bill

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President David Granger has assented to the controversial Broadcasting Amendment Bill 2017, paving the way for concerned broadcasters to file legal action.

The Broadcast Amendment Bill, 2017 was passed in the National Assembly on August 04, 2017, but subsequently several local and international broadcasters and media organizations urged the Head of State not to assent to the Bill on the ground that it infringes on press freedom.

News Room was informed that several private broadcasters were strongly contemplating to legally challenge the new law which they believe have grave financial implications, infringes upon press freedom and a violation of proprietary rights. 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.

In an invited comment on Thursday (September 14, 2017), President David Granger confirmed that he assented to the Bill. However, a check of the Official Gazette shows that this is yet to be published.

According to the government, the Broadcast Amendment Bill, 2017 provides for public service programmes, the prohibition of programmes containing hate speech, and addresses an international agreement for broadcasting any channel or programme as part of the local service.

Local stakeholders, including the Guyana Press Association said the bill grants the state “unwarranted” power to manage the programming of radio and television stations by allocating one hour for public service programming dictated by the government.

Additionally, the Bill outlines that 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.

The International Press Institute (IPI) had urged the government to meet with private stakeholders and address this among other concerns before the bill is assented to. In light of the concerns, the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) claimed that meetings were hosted with broadcasters but this was disputed by the broadcasters.

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