The parliamentary Opposition has maintained that the Broadcast Amendment Bill in its current form is ‘unconstitutional’ and will have several implications on private broadcasters.
Opposition Member of Parliament (MP), Anil Nandlall, has since advised broadcasters to challenge the Bill in court, because it will have far reaching repercussions that could harm their businesses.
“A court properly advised in my humble view, would strike down this Bill as unconstitutional and that is why my respectful advice to all broadcasters and persons affected by this act, including the people of this country… I say to them this act is manifestly and palpably unconstitutional,” he added.
Nandlall feels the Bill was “rammed down the throat of Parliament,” pointing out that it was only last week that the Bill was read for the first time, and it was quickly passed on Friday.
The former Attorney General said private broadcasters could file for a conservatory order to block the law from taking force, something he said broadcasters have already expressed a willingness to do.
A meeting between top executives of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP/C) and several broadcasters was held recently, where these broadcasters were advised on the issue.
Apart from obtaining a conservatory order, Nandlall told a press conference on Saturday that those who file the court action can seek damages for breach of constitutional rights.
“If they decide to issue you with a licence they now have a freedom to alter your spectrum, so the reach you had, you aren’t guaranteed to get it back,” Nandlall explained.
But what is more damaging is the fact that under this Bill, if this space is altered, then the value of the owner’s property is automatically reduced, with no compensation, but they may incur additional fees.
The new rule under the Bill which stipulates that broadcasters must allot one hour free for public service programmes is not only seen as a grave imposition, but it tramples on press freedom, he stated.
Further, Nandlall claims these broadcasters could lose as much as $850,000 per month as a result of the requirement to broadcast Government programmes for free. “They are picking your pocket. That again is compulsory acquiring your property without compensation,” Nandlall condemned.
He asserts that the old argument that licences were given to family and friends of former President Bharrat Jagdeo lacks credibility and was only reiterated by the Government who was in the Opposition then, to score cheap political points.
“I asked them to point to any of the recipients of (broadcast) licence, who did not qualify for them. The fact that someone might be close to a political party and benefit from a licence cannot be a ground to disqualify that person. The Constitution guarantees to everyone the right and freedom to support a party of your choice,” he said.
Meanwhile, Opposition MP Gail Teixeira also stated her disappointment with the Bill which according to her will have serious social and economic implications on broadcasters; given the fact that once the Bill is assented to they stand a chance of losing their licences.
The Opposition has predicted that Government would use amendments to Guyana’s Broadcasting Act to close several radio and television stations whose leaders are closely aligned to the People’s Progressive Party/Civic.
Government used its parliamentary majority on Friday evening to pass the Broadcast Amendment Bill, although several bodies have come out criticising the Bill, including the Guyana Press Association.