June 16 2019
Shaleeza Khan, General Manager of Guyana Publications Incorporated (GPI), the publisher of the Stabroek News and Sunday Stabroek newspapers, says the company has been treated unfairly by the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA), which recently denied its application for a primary zone radio licence.
Khan’s comments were made following the receipt of a letter from the GNBA informing her that the company’s application for a radio licence for the operation of a station in the primary zone, which includes Georgetown, could not be processed.
The letter, which is dated May 7th, 2019, and signed by the GNBA’s Board Secretary Rianna Bowman, acknowledged that in 2018 the company applied for a Radio Broadcasting Licence to operate a radio station within the “Primary” zone. (The primary zone covers Georgetown, Region Three up to the Essequibo River, all of Region Four and Region Five east of Region Four to the Abary River.)
The letter went on to state that the GNBA’s Governing Board wished to inform that the application could not be considered as there were no more frequencies available in the zone. It was noted that there are frequencies available in the secondary and tertiary zones. However, Khan said that the company was not interested in pursuing those at this point.
The company has been seeking a licence since 1993 and since that time has submitted multiple applications under successive governments.
Under the current administration, on January 6th, 2016, the company submitted to the GNBA an application that had been previously submitted to the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU), which had responsibility for licences.
The application was submitted after the GNBA said it did not have any application on file for the company.
However, two days later the company received a letter from the GNBA requesting that the application be redone on a form that the agency provided. The application was resubmitted on February 17th, 2016. Two days later, on February 19th, 2016, supporting documents for the application was submitted to the agency.
More than a year elapsed and on November 23rd, 2017, another application was submitted to the GNBA in keeping with the amended Broadcasting Act, along with the application processing fee.
On December 14th, 2017, the company sent a letter to the GNBA advising that information relating to a technical officer was omitted from the application since no one had been hired as yet to fill the position and the information would be available once the licence was granted.
However, according to Khan, on January 5th last year, she spoke with an IT/Licensing Officer Arifa Persaud, who indicated that licences were being given out in the batches.
“I asked her for a formal response to us in writing on the status of our application and that she should let [Chief Executive Officer] Dr. [Prudence] Lewis-Bhola and [Board Secretary] Mrs. [Violet] Boyal know that I had called about this issue. Neither of them were available to speak with me at the time I called since Dr. Lewis-Bhola was not in office and Mrs. Boyal was not available,” Khan explained, while noting that Persaud said she would inform both Lewis-Bhola, Boyal and the GNBA’s Chairman Leslie Sobers about the company’s request.
“I mentioned to her that whilst I was not there I was told that reporters asked the Chairman about the status of Stabroek News’ application and he said that there was no more space available on the primary zone and he was just the Chairman and was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the GNBA and he could not answer any further question on Stabroek News’ application,” Khan related.
Khan added that on January 8th, 2018, Persaud spoke with Boyal but did not speak with the Chairman and had related that “hopefully we would get a response from them before the end of the day.””
On the same day, a letter was dispatched to the CEO inquiring about the status of the company’s application. Four days later, on January 12th, 2018, a letter was received from the GNBA stating that there was a statutory meeting on November 15th, 2017, to deliberate on a proposed list of agencies for consideration and that at that time the application had not been resubmitted.
On February 8th, 2018, Khan said the company responded to the GNBA and pointed out the many telephone
conversations on the radio licence application and that it was never mentioned during those engagements that the re-submitted application was received after the Board’s deliberation. “We also pointed out that our first application was submitted since February 2016,” Khan explained.
There was no response to the letter. On April 6th, 2018, a follow up letter was sent to the GNBA. On June 13th, 2018, the GNBA by way of a letter advised that the application for the licence was done in the name of Guyana Publications Inc. and that a separate company should be formed to handle the only radio.
On July 10th, 2018, a response was sent to the GNBA indicating that the company was in the process of forming the subsidiary, and on October 16th, 2018, a letter along with the certification of incorporation for the subsidiary – Radio Stabroek Inc. — was sent to the GNBA.
Eight days later, on October 24th last year, an application in the name of Radio Stabroek Inc. was resubmitted. The letter received on May 7th this year, indicating that the application could not be processed, was the GNBA’s response.
Khan said that the company is being unfairly treated since there are persons who would have received licences despite applications that were made after GPI.
Stabroek News has made numerous efforts to get a comment from the GNBA and Sobers. Numerous calls were made to Sobers last week but they went unanswered. Stabroek News also visited the Authority’s office on Monday, and after leaving contact information, was told that Boyal would contact this newspaper. However, this was not done. Stabroek News made a subsequent visit yesterday and was told by the receptionist that Boyal would not be able to speak and it would be up to Sobers. When asked whether Sobers was aware of the visit as well as the request for an interview, Stabroek News was told yes but could not get an answer on whether any positive communication and possible date was indicated.
In an invited comment, Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief Anand Persaud said that the award of radio licences under the Granger administration has mirrored that under the Bharrat Jagdeo government – the handing out to entities, many of whom could be considered “family and friends” and without the bona fides of Stabroek News, which has been in business since 1986. Persaud said that one egregious award was that to Channel 9, one of whose principals – Noel Blackman, a former Minister of Health in the PNC administration – had been jailed just months before in New York for conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone, a controlled substance. Persaud said in light of the continued and unjustified denial of a radio licence in the primary zone, the newspaper would have to weigh the various options in front of it. He said the continued refusal to consider Stabroek News for a licence in the main zone was an oppressive act and would be reported to press freedom bodies and journalists’ organisations.
Prior to then president Jagdeo’s administration handing out numerous licences in November 2011 to persons deemed close to him, GPI had submitted applications for licences to the NFMU, dating back to April 8th, 1993.
Keith Griffith, the coordinator of the Unit, had replied on the same day acknowledging the application and asking for the submission of the application in triplicate, which was subsequently done. Griffith had also said that the application would receive attention and that GPI would be “advised accordingly.”
There was no further communication from the NFMU as it appeared by then that the PPP/C government had taken a decision that the radio spectrum would not be opened even though it had commissioned a report from a Guyanese media expert, Rafiq Khan, which had addressed licensing.
The GPI application in 1993 had been accompanied by a commitment by a Trinidad media group to assist in the establishing of the radio station and the training the local staff.
From 1993 onwards, the various PPP/C governments made positive noises about opening up the broadcast spectrum and applications were submitted to the NFMU by other persons during this period.
However, there was no development and the state maintained its grip on radio. There was no major development on the matter until May, 2001, when the Radio Monopoly and Non-Partisan Boards Committee was established as a result of the dialogue that had begun in April that year between Jagdeo and then opposition leader and former president, the late Desmond Hoyte.
The dialogue saw both leaders agree that no new licences would be issued until the establishment of a broadcast authority. There was eventually a stalemate between the two sides over the proposed broadcast authority bill and the entire process was stalled as a result.
The next major development came around January, 2010, when the government and the NFMU signaled, out of the blue, that it would be reviewing radio licence applications and inviting those who had previously submitted to resubmit.
The original applicants were written to by the NFMU and asked to reapply. Stabroek News did so on July 23rd, 2010.
There was no further word from the NFMU from that point onwards even though Stabroek News attempted to find out about the processing of its application. Just prior to the 2011 general elections, the Jagdeo administration announced awards of licences but Stabroek News was not included.