July 6, 2000
WE ARE pleased that a new consensus is appearing on the content of a broadcasting law for Guyana. Attempts at introducing such a law go back to 1965, and there is a solid body of ideas that could now form the basis for a comprehensive and modern law.
As we understand from the outcome of the one-day Seminar on a Broadcasting Law, the intended legislation will prescribe the legal framework for the operation of the whole range of electronic media - radio, television, Internet, etc...
However, for now, the licensing of private radio is not on the card as Government intends to maintain the status quo over this vital area of communication. In many countries, including Caribbean states, state monopoly over sections of the media, whether radio or television, has become a norm. In Barbados, for example, television is state-owned, but radio has been liberalised.
The pressing need for regulation and an independent authority to implement them arose from the manner in which television stations have mushroomed in Guyana.
It would appear that in the past anyone could establish a television station. The airwaves were considered no man's property that was up for grabs. This thinking is now disappearing mainly due to public discourse on the various drafts of proposed broadcasting law since 1996.
As was stressed by Information Minister Moses Nagamootoo, and supported by Messrs. Kit Nascimento and Hugh Chomondeley, the electro-magnetic spectrum or air waves is a natural resource. It belongs to the Nation analogous, in Guyana's case, to the timber in our rainforests or to the gold, diamonds or oil deep in the land. As public property, it is of great importance to the sovereignty and life of the country.
Its use therefore must be regulated. Or else there will be continuing negative consequences, some of which have been recognised by broadcasters during the recent face-on with Government. Broadcasters themselves want to run a regular business and to distance themselves from charges of squatting, piracy, unrestricted programmes, over-spilling of signals, etc.
Not only do they support regulations to make them fully legal. They want to be told what they must do to promote creative and efficient use of the frequencies for which they will hold licences. They want to be sure about how and when they could lose their licences, since these are not transport property.
With a law in place and an authority to administer it, we hope that there will be no more loose talk by some that they have God-given right to "own" television frequencies. As Chomondeley said sarcastically, nowhere else in the world would we find a wanna-be president owning a television station, and giving a programme the name of his political party! Where else, we may add, do we have a "Rex TV", a "Vieira TV", a "Sharma TV", a "Rambarran TV" or a "Blackman TV"?
The practice of giving these frequencies the names of the licensees should not be tolerated. No frequency should be converted into private property.
The Broadcasting law will make it clear, we hope, that licensees have to broadcast in the public interest. No more private agendas; no more use of the airwaves to settle personal scores; or, for that matter, promote political ambitions.
We agree however with those who strongly represented that licensing must be based on certain principles which should inform Government's policy toward the print and electronic media. The first principle should be support for that cluster of rights conventionally termed "Freedom of the Press".
The second principle, closely related to the first, should be the absence of private monopoly over the media. The interests of the state and the people must be guaranteed and protected. Our history is our best guide that such monopoly is detrimental under both colonial and authoritarian monopoly control.
These two principles reinforce each other, and should form the bedrock for a broadcasting policy.
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