Recently, there were reports that the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) is considering taking serious sanctions against broadcasters which continually defy the rules for what is deemed responsible broadcasting of information during the elections period.
Cleary, the country would want every broadcaster to act responsibly at all times, more especially during the elections period. World history is replete with the dire consequences of irresponsible broadcasting, therefore, in principle, the GNBA’s call for responsible utterances on the nation’s airwaves is sound. However, the manner in which the GNBA seemingly operated over the past three years raises suspicion on its real intent.
Some time ago, the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, claimed that the Guyana GNBA is targeting broadcasting stations perceived to be anti-Government. He further accused the GNBA of engaging in censorship and for terrorizing broadcast entities it perceives of being unsympathetic towards the APNU/AFC Government.
Mr Jagdeo’s position is similar to that of broadcasters who have been cited for broadcast infractions by the GNBA. Some have lamented a draconian approach that directly infringes on freedom of expression and the obligation to inform and educate viewers and listeners alike. This, in no way, suggests a right to broadcast libellous, discriminatory or inciting content.
Broadcasters in question are well aware of this and have endeavoured to abide by the GNBA’s broadcast guidelines. However, aspects of the said guidelines are viewed as deliberate measures to aid in the enforcement of censorship. Mr Jagdeo also claimed that some station managers are questioned as to why they cannot find positive things to say about the Government.
If that were the case, then it’s extremely worrying since it suggests that the GNBA is allegedly using its authority to force the broadcast of content favourable to the Government. If such actions are indeed meted out to broadcasters, then it becomes a direct assault on freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Therein lies danger since it becomes indicative of the Government seemingly using arms of the State to silence opposing views.
In August of 1950, former USA President Harry S Truman said, “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear”.
During the period 1964-1992, the then People’s National Congress (PNC) Government unleashed severe measures to stifle the voice of the then People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Opposition and others who opposed it. In the process and among other things, the importation of newsprint for Opposition-ran presses was banned.
Some who raised their voices against the regime were beaten and/or incarcerated with some paying with their lives. That’s the terror that President Truman alluded to and the fear it precipitates into the mindsets of the citizenry.
Following the rebirth of democracy in 1992 under the PPP/C Government, one would have felt that dark and shameful past was laid to rest. Unfortunately, fears of a growing dictatorship are now being rekindled allegedly aided by actions of the GNBA, as claimed.
Noteworthy, the Broadcast Act was amended by the current APNU/AFC Government of which the PNC is the dominant party. One aspect is that broadcasters are mandated to provide one hour of broadcast time to facilitate Government programming under the guise of public service announcements.
In principle, no broadcaster is against the airing of pertinent national messages that warn of natural disasters or outbreak of diseases or any other necessary information. However, they oppose the imposition of that hour for the broadcast of Government propaganda and that the choice of the timing can be dictated by the authority.
When that is taken into consideration, along with the claim of some station managers being allegedly asked to broadcast content favourable to the Government, it appears that the GNBA is seemingly becoming a conduit for Government’s infringements on freedom of expression. Given that, GNBA’s discharging of its mandate in a consistent, professional and fair manner has unavoidably been questioned.
The relevance of the question is within the context of the content of the State media broadcast arms. Aggrieved broadcasters, which have been cited for various infractions, are hard-pressed to see any consistency given some of what is being broadcast on the State media and the apparent free reign Government officials have through it.
With that in mind, Mr Jagdeo’s claims of the GNBA’s attempts to censor some broadcast stations drive home that inherent fear as some sections of the media are reportedly in the process of being muzzled.
The GNBA has denied the claims while stating it has recorded numerous broadcast infractions for the year so far. In addition, it would have also seized nine broadcast frequencies from three entities, including from a radio station owned and operated by the PPP.
These, especially the latter, make it extremely difficult to dismiss the claims of censorship and possibly the terrorizing of broadcast entities. Within that said context, it also makes it difficult to take the GNBA at face value on its intent for responsible broadcast during the upcoming elections period.