Lawyers should help establish societal values
Stabroek News
February 18, 2002

Dear Editor,

Attached is an old article published by The Observer in England which labelled Guyana as the world's biggest electronic pornographer. While there were improvements over the level of telephone service offered before privatisation, Guyanese should express outrage at the underdevelopment of telephone services from which it suffered as a result of this emphasis on audiotext lines. At the time of the Observer article, it was estimated that 50,000 were waiting to be connected. That situation has not improved markedly. And we are allowing ourselves to be bullied into further underdevelopment. The lawyers upholding this bullying behaviour should be ashamed. Lawyers at their level should indicate to their clients when such behaviour is unacceptable. After all, these lawyers are Guyanese who suffer indirectly from the effects of underdevelopment. Are they impervious to the pornographic image that Guyana has attracted? If civil society at this level does not rise to higher ethical standards, then there is no likelihood that the rest of the country will do so. It is at this level of prominent lawyers in places like England and America that societal values were established. There is little hope for us given this lack of concern for the development of a humane society.

The Observer article is attached.

Yours faithfully,

Clarence F. Ellis

Editor's note:

The audiotext sex calls service was lost to other competitors. The lawyers are arguing against a unilateral breach of the company's monopoly, and that negotiations to break this monopoly have to be linked to the finances of the company as the government had guaranteed a l5% rate of return in the original contract. GT&T has indicated a willingness to negotiate the end of its monopoly.

The Observer 29th September 1996 Lib Dem chief's company linked to sex lines

By Michael Gillard

ROBERT MACLENNAN, the president of the Liberal Democrats who last week called for the cleaning up of parliamentary sleaze, makes up to L25,000 a year as a non-executive director of the parent company of one of the leading providers of international telephone lines used by the dial-a-porn business.

The erudite, quietly-spoken MP for Caithness sits on the board of Atlantic Tele Network (ATN), whose subsidiary in Guyana earns up to $100 million (L65m) a year from connecting callers from Britain and around the world to explicit live sex "chat lines" and recorded hard-core messages provided by others.

The sex lines are advertised widely in British newspapers. Calls to Guyana are immediately rerouted back to telephone sex providers in Britain or another country. Using Guyana gets around tight restrictions introduced two years ago to prevent children accessing such numbers and others running up huge, unwanted bills for subscribers.

ATN, a US company, controls Guyana Telephone & Telegraph in the former British colony in South America. GTT provides international lines for other companies outside the country, which supply the sex messages.

Among the services available - at up to L1 a minute - are "the sex shop where anything goes," which promises "extremely graphic hard-core messages," and an international hard-core sex service."

Mr. Maclennan has been an ATN non-executive director since 1992, the year GTT started providing lines to the telephone sex business. A co-director is Sir Sonny Ramphal, the Guyanese former Commonwealth Secretary General.

Mr. Maclennan said yesterday he was unaware of GTT's significance in the sex line business. Asked whether its involvement in telephone pornography had been raised at ATN board meetings, he declined to discuss the matter. "I do not want to carry on with this conversation," he said. "It may be a quite relevant question to ask but I don't want to talk about it."

Guyana is the biggest player in the worldwide market for heavy breathing telephone calls, worth more than $1 billion a year. More than 70 per cent of complaints received in the past 12 months by the British telephone watchdog , the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Information Services, concerned calls to Guyana.

In 1994 the High Court upheld BT's decision to require GTT to cut off 66 lines used by a company which provided "erotic and sexually explicit conversation." Last year Germany joined Greece, Spain, Poland and Hungary in blocking direct access to telephone sex numbers in Guyana. GTT provided more than two-thirds of ATN's revenue last year and two-thirds of the Guyana revenue came from providing lines for international "audiotext" services. These include sports, weather and business news, but GTT's general manager Tom Minnick admitted: "Porn is the largest percentage."

GTT's revenue from providing international audiotext lines has gone from $10 million in 1993 to $91 m last year and this year should top $100 million.

Calls to foreign countries are outside the UK watchdog's code of conduct. Callers to Guyana numbers are merely warned they must be over 18 and are making an international call. ATN says it abides by local laws and its audiotext contracts oblige providers to "refrain from using obscene or indecent material."

"When we get a complaint we cut off that number straight away," Mr. Minnick said. He said he was aware of two disconnections this year.

GTT's success has sparked a political row in Guyana, where the government still holds a 20 per cent stake in the local monopoly. Politicians have accused it of concentrating on providing lines to sex companies rather than expanding the telephone service, in a country where 50,000 are waiting to be connected. The dollar sign $ refers to U.S. dollars.