Channel Nine protests against one day suspension
Experts say station responsible for enforcing guidelines
By Johann Earle
Stabroek News
August 1, 2003

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In protest at the July 3rd 24-hour shutdown sanctioned by the Office of the Prime Minister on the advice of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB), HBTV Channel 9 has issued a statement in which it denies that any infringement was committed.

The station was taken off the air from 1 am on July 3 to 1 am on July 4.

The incident which prompted the actions of the ACB was a June 3, 2003 episode of 'At Home with Roger', televised on HBTV, in which the presenter, Roger Moore, alleged that "the reason why these wanted men are shot and killed is because they do not want them to speak out when they are brought to justice because to speak out means that certain people's names will have to be called in the Government and in the PPP, and I am saying that without compunction, these are the people". He also said that persons of Annandale and Enmore on the East Coast of Demerara are receiving gun licences 'willy-nilly'.

The station's management contends in the statement that the ACB's notice of infringement of the terms of licence was received on June 9 and was responded to by the station's attorney, Joseph Harmon, on June 26. Harmon says that he has received no response to his letter. He further says that he was unable to establish a basis for the ACB finding from the evidence presented to him.

In an invited comment, Moore told Stabroek News that as regards the first statement about the killing of criminals to prevent them "speaking out" he could not really substantiate this but that that was the opinion of many people. As regards his comments about gun licences being handed out to persons of Annandale and Enmore, Moore contends that it was the ACB that pointed out the fact that the villages were `East Indian'. He further claimed that there were reports that gun licences were being given out but agreed that he had no evidence in support of these allegations. He proffered, however, that it is the Commissioner of Police who has the authority to hand out licences and not the Minister of Home Affairs.

On the points of the ACB's contention that the statements "[have] the strong thread of serious racist innuendo running through [them] contrived to incite racial hatred and discord, and to be offensive to public feeling," Moore said that that has to be proven by the ACB.

According to the Prime Minister's letter dated July 3, 2003, those statements contravened conditions (a) and (b) of Appendix A of the licence issued to the channel. The letter from the Prime Minister said that such statements are likely to incite crime or racial intolerance and are offensive to public feeling. The letter also states that further infringement of the station's licence may result in revocation of that licence.

The HBTV statement contended that the Prime Minister shut down the station because of the channel's non-response to correspondence from the ACB. The statement noted that a previous ruling against the station by the Prime Minister for alleged infringement of the terms of its licence is being dealt with by the Court. HBTV contends that the outstanding issue before the court is a determination of what constitutes "an infringement of conditions (a) and (b) of Appendix A of the Broadcast Licence that is likely to incite or inflame racial intolerance and is offensive to public feeling."

The statement from HBTV says: "we believe that the statement attributed to Roger Moore on June 3, 2003, and which we reproduced for public information, in no way can be deemed to constitute the infringement claimed by the ACB and the Prime Minister. Evidently, the ACB does not consider itself responsible for discussing and resolving this critically important and complex issue of what is likely to incite crime or inflame racial intolerance and is offensive to public feeling. Continued failure to do so will confirm the worst fears of owners of television stations of the ACB's whimsical and capricious interpretations of the law."

The station says it has received two other notices of alleged infringements from the ACB since the June 3 incident.

The criteria used by the ACB monitors are as follows:

1. Promotion or incitement to racial hatred.

2. Promotion or incitement of public disorder.

3. Defamatory statements.

4. Breaches of good taste or decency.

5. Offence to public sensibility.

6. Unbalance in reporting.

7. Disrespectful to the social respectability of people.

8. Excessive violence and pornography.

9. Stereotyping of social or ethnic groups.

10. Ridiculing, stigmatising or demonising people on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation and physical or mental disability.

11. Expressed infringement of copyright.

Depending on the severity of the infringement, the ACB may recommend that the following sanctions be imposed:

(a) Advice or strong advice

The licencee is strongly advised to observe the relevant provisions more carefully.

(b) Warning or serious warning

That the ACB takes a serious view of the contravention and the licencee is warned or seriously warned against further contravention.

(c) Suspension or revocation of licence

In very serious cases, the ACB may recommend the suspension of a licence (up to 30 days), or to make recommendation to have the licence revoked.

In an invited comment, communications specialist Kit Nascimento stated that the comments made by Moore on June 3 indeed infringed regulations 23 A (a) and (b). He feels however that judgement was hasty on the part of the ACB, the station should have been given some more time to respond and discuss the issue further.

Nascimento said that what he found astonishing was that Harmon, acting on behalf of the station, would put forward the view that the station wasn't liable for statements made by persons who would have bought airtime, as it was the station which is granted the licence. Nascimento believes, and legal advisers have confirmed, that broadcasting stations are fully liable in law for any programme broadcast on their station, whether they approve or are aware of the contents or not. It is the licencee who is responsible for the statements.

Nascimento noted that in cases such as this one, there should have been an undertaking by the station owner that while the matter was being discussed, the show or programme in question would have been suspended or the host of the show warned.

In commenting on the show 'At home with Roger', Nascimento said: "I find this show to be repellent and racially offensive and geared at creating racial disharmony"...and he suggested the show was not in compliance with the existing regulations.

Another communications expert made the point that the new broadcasting regulations to come on stream in the near future will define clearly what is meant by the terms spelt out in the ACB ruling and in the Prime Minister's letter.

This person said, however, that judgment should not be made on one incident alone, as that incident should be viewed in relation to others over time. According to the source, programmes on other channels might also warrant similar rulings.

This expert also confirmed that the licencee is liable for anything said on his or her station, and that the licencee is the one who is primarily responsible for maintaining the standards established by the guidelines. A disclaimer has no legal effect.

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