Lt. Col (Ret’d) Harmon: I rise to move the first reading of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2013, Bill No. 19 of 2013.
The resolution is:
“That this National Assembly, in accordance with Standing Order No. 52(1), grant leave for the introduction and first reading of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2013 – Bill No. 19 of 2013.
A Bill intituled:
An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act.”
I wish to give a very brief explanatory statement on this matter. The proposed amendments are informed by the provisions of the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, article 146 (1), which guarantees the freedom of expression and freedom to receive and disseminate information.
Secondly, the amendments also give effect to the Report of the 2001 Hoyte/Jagdeo Bi-Partisan Committee on broadcast and state media, the recommendations of which were ignored in some sections of the Act.
Thirdly, the amendment further seeks to reduce the overarching influence of the Minister responsible for broadcast in the appointment and functioning of the Guyana National Broadcast Authority.
Those are the brief explanatory notes. As I said, I will be very brief on this matter.
In December, 2001, a joint committee was established to investigate and make recommendations on radio monopoly, non-partisan boards and broadcasting legislation. The co-chairs of that committee, appointed by His Excellency President Bharrat Jagdeo and the Leader of the Opposition, the late Mr. Desmond Hoyte, were the Hon. Madam Gail Teixeira and the late Mr. Derek Bernard of the then People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R).
That joint committee from which the Bill and Act eventually arose had several consultations with stakeholders in the telecommunications sector. The committee consulted from 6th June, 2001 to July, 2001. The committee’s final meeting was on 1st December, 2001. They had wide consultations. They consulted with Mr. Valmikki Singh, Chief Executive Office (Ag.) of the National Frequency Management Unit, as he was at that time; Mr. Hugh Cholmondeley and Mr. Kit Nascimento, media consultants; Mr. Martin Goolsarran and David De Groot, managers of Guyana Television (GTV) and Guyana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) respectively; Mr. Omar Farouk, owner and operator of HGB Channel 16/67; Mr. Ali of ABC Berbice; Mr. J. Yassin (Jr), owner of Channel 102; Mr. Sanichara, owner SRTV 4; representatives of Channel 6; Mr. and Mrs. McKay of WRHM Channel 7; G. Waldron, E. Blackman and P. Jackson of NBTV Channel 9; Anand Persaud, owner of Channel 69; and A. Khan of Channel 13. The consultations were wide and they were varied.
In my respectful view, the major recommendations represented in these amendments which were ignored are represented in sections 3, 4, 5, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 24, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38, 40, 44 and 48 of the principal Act.
A brief idea of what I am talking about is that in the report itself, the approach which the committee took in dealing with this matter spoke about an integrated approach. It basically states that for the broadcast legislation, which we are seeking to amend here tonight, such a framework must be based on the fundamental requirement that any new legislation, organisational changes, or institutional reforms must be aimed at serving the national good and the best public interest.
The committee agreed, at the outset, on certain basic things and, as I said, some of them were not reflected in the Act which eventually came out. The committee agreed that underpinning this framework should be the understanding that a free and unfettered mass media is indispensible to democratisation and development and its recommendations must be consistent with the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, international conventions and best practices.
Another feature of the report was that the Government broadcasting system will be administered by an independent and autonomous authority, empowered by the relevant legislation to issue public, commercial and community radio and television licences, enforce regulations, monitor compliance, and increase public awareness, among other functions.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Hon. Member, do you have much longer? I understand that your statement is supposed to be brief.
Lt. Col (Ret’d) Harmon: It is very brief.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: There will be a second reading of the Bill.
Lt. Col (Ret’d) Harmon: I understand Mr. Deputy Speaker but I believe this point needs to be made from the outset.
Under the National Broadcasting Authority – and this is the important part – the National Broadcasting Authority must be independent and autonomous within the framework of the Constitution, true to the spirit and letter of its establishing legislation, answerable only to the National Assembly and must serve the public interest and national good. I wanted to emphasise that point. I want to emphasise that it should be answerable to the National Assembly; the mode of the appointment of members of the board must be a process which is initiated in the National Assembly, and all of those important provisions were overridden and thrown through the window when the Act became law. Thank you very much. [Applause]