ACB refuses to pronounce on `Douglas tape'
...says it does not replace DPP, Police or courts
Guyana Chronicle
May 17, 2002

Related Links: Articles on Mashramani Day Jailbreak
Letters Menu Archival Menu

THE Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) yesterday said it would not pronounce on the broadcast of a videotape of notorious prison escapee, Andrew Douglas, by two television stations last week.

The ACB, in a statement, refused to comment on the broadcast of the tape, providing as reason that "much of Guyana's daily television fare is offensive...accusatory, contentious and inflammatory".

It said it is not in place "to mete out the various 'terrible punishments' against one television licensee as recommended by the other, or as by recommended by people who are offended".

The newly-appointed three-man Committee stated that for those who see them as "inert", the setting up of the ACB did not replace the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Police nor the Civil Court system.

"If the ACB were to 'do the bidding' of complainants in relation to sanctions against stations, we would become, simply, another combative force in the melee. That is not our mandate", the Committee said.

"We are a force for moral suasion, technical and professional improvement, and a catalyst for placing 'ethics' high on the agenda of the broadcast industry in Guyana...We as a professional team heed and adhere to our mandate as already stated publicly, and will do it with professionalism and dignity", the ACB stated.

The videotape contains a statement by Douglas, dressed in army wear and holding an AK 47 rifle and was aired on VCT Channel 28 and WHRM Channel 7 last week Thursday night.

Douglas is one of five armed and very dangerous criminals who escaped from the Georgetown Prison on February 23 last, killing a Prison Officer and wounding another in the breakout. They have since been linked to a series of car hijackings, robberies and murders in and around Georgetown.

The ACB was said to be reviewing the tape and advising Prime Minister Sam Hinds thereafter on what course of action should be taken. Mr. Hinds had said that revoking of the licences of the media houses in question could be a possible course of disciplinary action.

The Government and civil society have been awaiting the ACB's pronouncement on the videotape aired before consultation with the Police, and the bipartisan body in a statement the day after the airing said it had received telephone calls about it.

In that statement, it reminded 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.

On Monday, Prime Minister Hinds said the ACB faced a "very stiff test" in how it handles the issue. "No doubt they face a very stiff test immediately in how they handle the recent presentation on the TV of a programme by someone who is involved in the death of one of our prison officers.

"There is also the issue of the rightness in projecting it," he said, noting that he and the public at large would like to know what the ACB will be doing about it.

"It is putting them 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 had said.

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

But the ACB yesterday said that if political and civic leaders needed "pronouncements and mere punitive action" against television licensees, they would not have chosen to establish a Committee with an "advisory" mandate.

It said that it is "in the process of meeting with licensees on a variety of matters, including interacting and meeting with one another and reacting with dignity to peers in the industry and the society".

The ACB stated that even though it is mandated to respond to opinions and complaints relating to the broadcast industry, it welcomes comments in general and recommendations on the conduct and thrust of its work.

"We are committed to facilitate the setting and maintenance of high standards for the industry...the ACB will identify opportunities for peer networking and exposure to `best practices' in the television broadcast industry", the statement said.

The body is chaired by Mr. Patrick Dial, nominated by President Bharrat Jagdeo; Mr. Ronald Case, nominated by Opposition Leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte, and Mr. Carlton James, nominated by the private sector.

It was established to push the structured development of television broadcasting in Guyana and was formally introduced last month. Its tenure extends until the setting up of a Broadcasting Authority.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon on Wednesday said the administration will move to ensure the television stations "are visited with the most appropriate sanctions provided by our system."

Calling the action "a totally unaccepted and abhorrent deed" and a "criminal aggravation," he told reporters the airing of the videotape 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.

Luncheon said it 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 our 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 (it)..."

Luncheon said the body politic in Guyana, recognising the perils of fuelling ethnic hatred, collectively endorsed the move to establish the bipartisan ACB "to examine the content and to prescribe various forms of interventions and penalties to force producers to adhere to a civil code".