April 30, 2016 Source
There are currently 44 new applications for television, radio and cable licences according to Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) Chairman Leonard Craig who announced yesterday that existing broadcasters will have to reapply for a 2016 licence and a decision is still to be made on controversial licences handed out by the Jagdeo administration in 2011.
“Everybody would have to re-apply and in the re-application process you will be considered on the merit of your application,” Craig said at a press conference held yesterday during which the media was told that Guyana does not have sufficient spectrum to accommodate all of the prospective broadcasters.
He said that re-application does not mean you have to full out a new application but simply means it will go into a pile with everything else and be judged based on merits. “So it doesn’t mean we will call you to say take a blank application, fill it out and submit it again. Re- application simple means re-evaluation,” he explained.
Craig noted that the Authority is reorganising the broadcasting landscape and in so doing persons may not end up at the same spot they are at today. He said that because of this the Authority does not want to create an expectation in anybody’s mind that they will continue to exist on the spot that they are in. As a result of this he said that the Authority’s position is that while things are going through this process, consultation sessions will be held. So far, the Authority has met with TV broadcasters to update them on this reorganising process. According to Craig, subsequent to all the meetings (TV radio and cable) fees will be asked for.
“So, it is a sacrifice we are making. It is a loss of income indeed but sometimes we have to make a sacrifice in order to get things to go in the right direction,” he said.
The GNBA yesterday spoke of the controversial licences that were issued by former President Bharrat Jagdeo shortly before his tenure ended in 2011.
Craig, in a statement, said that the Board at all of its statutory meetings to date has discussed this issue and decided that the said “licences appear to have been issued contrary to and in violation of good administrative practices, as the said licences appeared to have been arbitrarily issued to persons and entities with close ties to the decision maker and without regard to prior existing applications.”
Further, he said that the decision would have pre-empted the application of the Broadcasting Act which was already assented to but was awaiting a date to come into operation and this was entirely within the authority of the said former President, who was also holding the portfolio as subject Minister as provided for by Section 1 of the said Act.
He noted that the issues relating to the said licences pose “difficult questions which ought only to be determined after deliberate consideration of the legal options available which includes but is not limited to litigation.”
In this regard, he said the Board has been in consultation with senior legal practitioners on this issue and it is our intention in keeping with our mandate to regulate, supervise and develop the National Broadcasting Systems, to make a decision as soonest.
Board director Anthony Vieira made it clear that the Authority is not in agreement with the way in which those licences were granted and “our agenda is to revoke them. That is our decision and that is we would like the public and the media to know. We are revoking those licences.”
Shortly before the 2011 general elections, Jagdeo had distributed a number of radio licences and frequencies among mainly friends and supporters of the PPP.
Vieira said that the minute the authority makes a move to revoke a licence it will end up in court with an injunction restraining it from stopping the person from broadcasting and or not paying any fees until the matter has been resolved.
He said that this is what the Authority is trying to avoid and is trying to put together a case involving the Jagdeo-issued licences with the assistance of himself, Insanally, Abiola Wong-Innis and through consultation with Sir Fenton Ramsahoye SC. He said that within a week or two, “we will start to see the results of the advice,” He said that the first advice was that the Authority should go back to Parliament but the Authority believes that this is a long and drawn out procedure and therefore may opt for a case of “taking the bull by the horn and going to court.” Using himself as an example he said that his case for a radio licence was filed in 2001 and was only determined in 2009.
“That is what is holding us up. We need to put a case whereby when you launched the case it is launched in such a way that it would not be easy for anyone to obtain an injunction to set aside your decision to withdraw the licence based on being heard in a dysfunctional legal system,” he said.
Director and attorney-at-law Wong-Inniss later said that it is important to note that the frequencies and the spectrum belong to the people of Guyana and when the decision was made to issue licences “we believe given the manner in which it was done and persons to whom it was done …they were subject and vulnerable to challenges from that moment”. She said that this was done in 2012. “We inherited a problem”, she said, pointing out that there are various options available to the Authority to deal with this matter including litigation and going to the legislature to correct the problem that exist.
She said that the factor is time as it relates to which method would be the most appropriate and later pointed out that the difficulty arises because at the time that the licences were issued there were already applications existing prior to those licences being granted.
Wong-Innis stressed that this issue poses many questions and the answers lie either though the court system or the legislature.
“I can assure you that a decision will be made shortly and we know that as we stand here that a decision is made to challenge it, the question is the manner in which it is to be done,” she said.