A number of private television, cable and radio broadcasters have claimed that the Guyana National Broadcasting Agency (GNBA) has refused payments for 2017, but GNBA Chairman, Leslie Sobers, has debunked those claims, stating that there seems to be some “mix up” about the issue. He confirmed that the new Board welcomes all broadcasters to fix their applications and to settle their arrears.
Guyana Times spoke with several of these broadcasters, who all claimed that the fees were rejected. The owner of the National Television Network (NTN), Anand Persaud, said his company has an unblemished record and have been paying its fees. The last payment was made in 2015. Persaud said, however, “I called three weeks ago and someone in the finance department of the GNBA said that the Board instructed them not to accept any payment for 2017.”
The NTN owner, has been in broadcasting since 1999, and also owns a radio station, claimed that this move was ‘wicked’, “because they already had in mind what was the plan.” He was referring to the Broadcast Amendment Bill which when becomes law, automatically terminates all broadcasting licenses.
Raymond Cummings of Freedom Radio also told Guyana Times that based on his knowledge; the GNBA is not taking payments for 2017. He related that Freedom Radio would have paid for the entire 2016, and only 2017 fees are outstanding.
However, Sobers told Guyana Times on Tuesday that he does not believe payments for 2017 were rejected. “What I think happened is that there may have been advice that they have to make themselves compliant as of 2016, before we can consider who is going to be licensed in 2017,” he stated.
The GNBA Chairman lamented that several broadcasters have certain incomplete procedures in relation to their original application. While noting that it is nothing major, he said there are others who have arrears and are still seeking to pay to get a licence in 2017.
“I don’t know which part of the world they operate in, where they can find that you have outstanding arrears for 2015 and 2016 and want a licence for 2017. So, we haven’t rejected any request for a licence for 2017, but advising that you have to become compliant as of the end of 2016,” he explained.
Some radio operators have indicated to Sobers verbally that they were advised that they should hold off on payments for their radio licence until the Board sorts itself out. But the GNBA Chairman said that instruction was not passed on to the staff by the Board he currently chairs.
“I can’t speak for any other Board. The Board I am now heading which was appointed as of February this year does not reject and would never reject. We are calling on people to pay. If broadcasters were told, I am speaking particularly in terms of radio, to delay or hold back for the time being, that could not be something that they should believe and hold on to because that board is no longer in authority.”
At present, the GNBA is going through the list of compliant broadcasters, to determine who will not be reissued licences. In addition to this, the GNBA Board is also contemplating moving away from issuing one-year licences, rather issuing those that could last for two years.
The law allows the GNBA to grant licences for not more than 10 years. “We find that this one-year licence is a bit onerous. So we will do that. And they have to become compliant. So it’s not that we are rejecting money. Which entity rejects money? The GNBA is run on the revenues earned from licenses.”
“The whole process of regulating the broadcasting industry requires work and staff that must be paid,” he further argued, explaining that the monies to do that regulatory work comes from licence fees. “So we can’t reasonably reject money that is due and payable to us,” he added.
Sobers said the GNBA will not issue licences to anyone unless they clear their arrears. “And if by the time the amendment to the (Broadcast Amendment Bill) is assented to and you have 30 days to put yourself in order and you don’t something else will happen. But once people bring themselves up to date, and then there assurance of being relicensed is very high,” he stated.
He continued, “So, it is nothing intended to scare people away or drive people out of the industry. The job of the regulator in this instance here is to ensure that we have quality broadcasting, the playing field is level and everybody has an equal access to the same resource as they so desire to utilise it.”
The GNBA head said the rationale behind this move is to bring equity to the broadcasting industry. “So, that also we will address and ask the broadcasters to address their minds as they seek to be relicensed.”