Stations back on the air after court order
PM vows to vigorously pursue case
By Edlyn Benfield
December 21, 2002
An Order Nisi granted by a High Court judge yesterday saw the temporary reversal of the suspension by Prime Minister Sam Hinds of the licences of NBTV Channel 9 and CNS Channel 6 and Hinds last night said he intends to vigorously pursue the case.
Hinds, in compliance with advice from the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB), ordered the suspension of the licences of the said stations for 48 hours with effect from midnight on Thursday night for several breaches. The advice had been tendered in a letter to Hinds by ACB Chairman Pat Dial and Ron Case and Carlton James. The ACB had been set up following a decision by President Bharrat Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte during their now suspended dialogue. They each chose one member of the ACB and the private sector named the third.
The suspension action by the Prime Minister was temporarily stayed with the granting of an order nisi by Justice Dawn Gregory-Barnes to be served upon Hinds, and Dial, Case and James in their capacity as members of the ACB to show cause why a writ of certiorari should not be issued against them quashing their respective directives.
The judge's decision came after attorney Nigel Hughes for the plaintiffs - C.N. Sharma and Savitree Singh, Channel 6 and Blackman and Sons Inc, Channel 9 - filed a motion in the High Court seeking (a) a conservatory order restraining the Prime Minister "...by himself, his servants or agents..." from suspending the plaintiffs' television licences; (b) an order or rule nisi to be served on Dial, Case and James to show cause why a writ of certiorari should not be issued quashing their and Hinds' decision of November 28 and December 10 and 17, respectively, whereby they found that the plaintiffs had infringed regulation 23 (a) of their licences; (c) further, for the said respondents to show cause why a writ of certiorari should not be issued quashing Hinds' decision to suspend the plaintiffs' television broadcasting licences and (d) declarations that the suspension is in contravention of the plaintiffs' right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 146 of the local constitution and is a deprivation of property as guaranteed by Article 142.
The matter was returnable for 5 pm yesterday, at which time lawyers for the Attorney-General, Hinds and the ACB members - Ralph and Kamal Ramkarran, Hubert Rodney and Khemraj Ramjattan, respectively, entered an appearance and were granted leave to file an affidavit in response to the plaintiffs' claims. The matter will continue in court on Monday at 1:30 pm.
Channel 6 and Channel 9 resumed operations at 5 pm and 2 pm, respectively yesterday after being off the air from midnight on Thursday.
Hinds in his statement last night said that he had acted in accordance with the ACB which comprised members nominated by the President, the Leader of the Opposition and the Private Sector Commission.
He said that there had been widespread demand by the public for steps to be taken on the "excesses" on television stations but that it had been argued that the PM should not be the one making these determinations hence the setting up of the ACB which was to tender advice to him on these broadcasts and on which advice he was to act.
"The Prime Minister affirms that he will pursue this case vigorously since he is convinced that the curtailment and abolition of racism and incitement to crime, public disorder and violence would be served by greater responsibility shown by television stations", his statement added.
Heavily armed policemen were stationed at barricades set up a short distance from the PPP's headquarters on Robb Street in anticipation of planned protest action outside the nearby Channel 6 following the suspension of the licences of the two stations. But no protest materialised as the turnout was poor with under 100 persons at both television entities.
Speaking with Stabroek News from a city hospital where he had been admitted following a car accident (see other story on page 3), Sharma opined that the approach taken by the PM was a "hasty" one and that his television station was never given an opportunity to properly acknowledge the concerns of the ACB or Hinds or even to apologise had the need arisen for same. However, the host of the Channel Six programme which was cited by the ACB, Clem David, told Stabroek News on Thursday that he had received the correspondence from the ACB but had not looked at it because of its intent to pronounce on editorial content rather than give advice. He said he considered the ACB's approach to be a "complete humbug".
According to Sharma, no consideration was given to the loss of revenue that the suspension would incur, adding that his company employs some 32-odd staff members.
He told this newspaper that he received the notice at 4:15 pm and considered it unfair and unjust to be notified of a suspension at that time of the afternoon to cease broadcasting at midnight given the station's contracts with advertisers.
Both stations had been previously warned by the PM - who has responsibility for the broadcast sector - about transgressions based on the advice of the ACB.