Government warns TV stations of sanctions By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
May 16, 2002

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`(It is) a totally unaccepted and abhorrent deed' (and a) `criminal aggravation' - Dr. Roger Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat

A TOP Government official yesterday said the administration will move to ensure two television stations which recently aired a videotape by wanted criminal Andrew Douglas "are visited with the most appropriate sanctions provided by our system."

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon, called the action "a totally unaccepted and abhorrent deed" and a "criminal aggravation".

The Cabinet Secretary told his regular post-Cabinet news conference in Georgetown that the airing of the `Douglas tape' is a classical example of the irresponsible lengths to which media houses can go in the name of information, in the quest to attract viewership, and in an irresponsible effort to display more and more sensationalism.

According to Luncheon, the airing of the tape by television stations VCT Channel 28 and WRHM Channel 7 contributed directly or indirectly "to the worsening of the level of insecurity and fear" that currently prevails in the Guyanese society and fanned the flames of ethnic discord among people.

"We have correctly, at the Office of the President, come out strongly against this totally unaccepted and abhorrent deed by the television studios/stations and I would want to believe that that is not all that the administration would want to do, in the first instance, to respond to this criminal aggravation and, of course, to move on to ensure that it is visited with the most appropriate sanctions that our systems can provide," he said.

He said too, that the airing of the videotape reflects, based on Cabinet's and the Office of the President's views, how sections of the media are "pervasively contributing to the heightening of discord in our communities (and) are fanning the flames of sectarian violence and ethnic hatred."

Referring to other countries where there is civil war and civil strife, Luncheon pointed out that it is those instances where "such origins" progressed to full that such a situation is started.

"...and sections of the media in those countries have been directly implicated in cultivating and fanning the flames of hatred that led their societies to be engulfed," he added.

Luncheon said this is why the body politic in Guyana, recognising these perils, have collectively endorsed the move to establish the bipartisan Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) "to examine the content and to prescribe various forms of interventions and penalties to force producers to adhere to a civil code".

"The `Douglas tape' then, is a classical example of how not to do it. It is a classical example of the irresponsibility that, in the name of information, in the quest to attract viewership, perhaps (and) to display more and more sensationalism, the lengths to which media houses can go. And directly or indirectly, to worsen the level of insecurity and fear and to fan the flames of ethnic discord."

Prime Minister Sam Hinds on Monday said the ACB will no doubt face a "very stiff test" in how it handles the issue of the controversial videotape by the wanted criminal aired last Thursday night.

"No doubt they face a very stiff test immediately in how they handled the recent presentation on the TV of a programme by someone who is involved in the death of one of our prison officers," the Prime Minister said.

The videotape contains a statement by notorious criminal Douglas, dressed in army wear and holding an AK 47 rifle. Douglas is one of five armed and very dangerous criminals who escaped from the Georgetown Prison on February 23 last.

According to Mr. Hinds, "one can even wonder about the nature of the presentation (since) it does show to some people a very sophisticated use of equipment and people in the creation of that document".

"There is also the issue of the rightness of projecting it," he said.

The Prime Minister also pointed out that the two television stations aired the tape "even before consultation with the Police to see what was involved".

It is understood that the ACB is reviewing the videotape and will shortly be advising the Prime Minister on what course of action should be taken.

Mr. Hinds said he and the public at large would like to know what the ACB will be doing about it.

"I would also like to know and the public out there would also like to know. It is putting them (the ACB) to a severe test but I am pretty sure that when you look at their background and their recommendations, I figure that they will find a way out," Mr. Hinds said.

He noted that the ACB will be faced with the problem of deciding on the "conflict between perceived rights" of whether or not the tape should have been aired.

The Government Information Agency (GINA) last Friday issued a statement in which the Prime Minister inferred that the matter is in the hands of the ACB and saying that revoking the licences of the media houses in question could be a possible course of disciplinary action.

Last Friday, the ACB issued a statement saying it received telephone calls that day in connection with the broadcast by two television licencees of a tape purporting to have been recorded by a man sought by the Police.

The ACB said it wishes to remind the public that the law is clear, not merely in Guyana but worldwide, that any information about a person declared 'wanted' by the Police must be communicated to the authorities as soon as possible.

The same goes for any contact which might have been made with the wanted person, whether or not, the wanted person initiated the contact.

The three-man committee is Mr. Patrick Dial, Chairman, nominated by President Bharrat Jagdeo; Mr. Ronald Case, nominated by Opposition Leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte and Mr. Carlton James, nominated by the private sector.

The ACB, established to push the structured development of television broadcasting in Guyana, was formally introduced last month.

Its tenure extends until the establishment of a Broadcasting Authority.