Govt. shrugs off US criticisms over radio licencing …Guyana is a sovereign state that makes its own decisions
Government has shrugged off criticisms by the United States over the manner in which radio licenses were granted by former President Bharrat Jagdeo, yesterday insisting that Guyana is a sovereign state that has the right to make its own decisions. Government spokesman, Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon, also again defended Jagdeo’s decision to grant the 11 licences, saying the previous broadcast law gives the President, as the Minister of Information, the final say.
Government spokesman Dr. Roger Luncheon
“I stick with the law. The Postal and Telegraph Act confers on the President, the Minister of Information, the final say.”
According to Luncheon, the new law – the Broadcast Act of 2011- was not in effect at the time when Jagdeo made his decision, days before he ended his constitutional term in office and just before the November 2011 General Elections.
The granting of the radio licenses has sparked tensions and protests not only because of the manner in which they were granted, but also in whose hands they actually ended up.
Government and the Opposition, back in the 2000s, had brokered a binding agreement not to issue any more licences for radio and television stations until new legislation was in place. The Jagdeo administration also agreed that an independent body would assess the applications and make recommendations.
The new Broadcast Act of 2011 was passed in the National Assembly and assented to by Jagdeo in September 2011. The new laws mandated the establishment of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority.
However, Jagdeo did not wait on the Broadcast Authority to be established. Legal observers said he was in breach when he took it upon himself to grant the 11 radio and two cable licenses.
The details only came to light when Prime Minister Samuel Hinds was forced to answer questions posed by the opposition. The disclosures sparked protests by several entities with local and international media bodies condemning the allocations. The Opposition has already said it is a dangerous situation during elections time with government totally controlling the airwaves with those allocations.
Asked yesterday whether recent call by US Ambassador, D. Brent Hardt, for a review of the applications was creating pressure for government, Luncheon was adamant of Guyana’s independence in making internal decisions.
“Do you really believe a sovereign state, on an issue like this, would turn to one of its diplomatic partners to say, or readily say, your contributions have moved me from over in the east to over in the west? Those are decisions that we make. Those are decisions of the sovereign state. It is the same all over the world.”
“And I am not offering… I am telling you that is behaviour that is the convention of sovereign states. They make the decisions.”
He was also questioned about the complaints of the National Communications Network (NCN) and the Government Information Agency (GINA) that its press freedom is under threat because of recent budget cuts by the Opposition. It is the same argument being used by media houses whose licences were not considered.
US Ambassador, D. Brent Hardt
“Kaieteur News never had a radio license and so they could jump high and low, all they could claim is that we are denied getting a radio license… and I am certain in every jurisdiction in the world where radio licenses are given, whether by sale, by gift, by friend, there will always be some who don’t get.”
According to Luncheon, “there will always be a Kaieteur News sitting around in the country.”
The spokesman argued that if the door is being opened to a “principled complaint” by those who are disappointed because they were not granted licences then “bannas we gon be complaining whole year, because I know the Kaieteur Newses of this world will continue to be denied”.
He also said that in no part of the world is there that belief that an application, because of how long it has been filed, has to be granted or honoured.
“Not in the real world. Maybe where Glenn deh, but not in the real world where we live in.”
Luncheon was referring to the Publisher of Kaieteur News, Glenn Lall, who highlighted the radio licenses issue with US representatives and at an international media forum that was held recently in Curaçao, a Dutch territory in the Caribbean.
According to the US Ambassador during the observance last week of World Press Freedom Day, while new radio broadcasting licences are welcomed, the process by which such licences are issued must be fair and transparent.
“Guyana created a reasonable foundation for such a process through its 2011 Broadcasting Legislation, which paved the way for the creation of a National Broadcast Authority. It is now time for the Authority to do its work — to promptly review and approve qualified applicants, including many long established media houses whose applications in various forms have been pending since the late 1990s.”
In a bold admission, the Government’s Chief Spokesman Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon today said that Kaieteur News will continue to be denied a radio license. There has been mounting controversy over radio licenses issued by President Bharrat Jagdeo to his friends and associates of the ruling party. Kaieteur News has taken the matter to [...]