On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, the United States Ambassador to Guyana, D. Brent Hardt challenged the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority to get down to work and review and approve the qualified applicants for radio licenses.
The Ambassador’s statement at a U.S Embassy reception on Thursday night to celebrate World Press Freedom Day, was the clearest and strongest indication yet from the United States and the Diplomatic community that they were not pleased with the way radio licenses were issued by former President Bharrat Jagdeo.
In his remarks, Ambassador Hardt said “while new radio broadcasting licenses are welcome, the process by which such licenses are issued must be fair and transparent.”
He added that “Guyana created a reasonable foundation for such a process through its 2011 Broadcasting Legislation, which paved the way for the creation of a National Broadcast Authority. It is now time for the Authority to do its work — to promptly review and approve qualified applicants, including many long-established media houses whose applications in various forms have been pending since the late 1990’s.”
Private Broadcasters in Guyana have been protesting the issuance of radio licenses by former President Jagdeo.
Mr. Jagdeo issued 10 radio licenses just before he left office in 2011 but it was only recently revealed in the National Assembly that the majority of the licenses were issued to friends and family of the former President as well as current and former Government officials.
Private Broadcasters and media owners who had made applications over a decade ago were all shut out of the process and were not issued any of the radio licenses. They contend that the Jagdeo move was vindictive and bias. They have since moved to the courts to challenge the process.
The United States Ambassador said “radio is such an integral part of the public square throughout the Caribbean, and opening up that square in Guyana as it is in other Caribbean countries will do much to generate a more inclusive, participatory public dialogue on issues of the day for the people of Guyana”. A recent U.S State Department report on Human Rights called on the Guyana Government to be transparent and fair in the radio licenses process.
Guyana’s Attorney General, Anil Nandalall also spoke at the reception and said the Government has been making moves when it comes to freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Guyana.
The Attorney General said there will be challenges and reminded the gathering that in 1972, the Peoples Progressive Party was forced to move to the courts in an effort to life a block on the importation of news print for the party’s newspaper, The Mirror. He said the government is addressing the radio license issue.
President of the Guyana Press Association and Publisher and Editor of News Source, Gordon Moseley told the diplomats, Government officials and media representatives gathered at the event that the Guyana Press Association has made its concerns very clear about the “unfair and surreptitious distribution of radio frequencies by then President Bharrat Jagdeo and the National Frequency Management Unit.”
Moseley said while the GPA is aware that the former President’s actions are now subject to court challenges, the GPA hopes that good sense, justice and fair play will prevail and issues surrounding these assignments would be thoroughly investigated and corrected under the terms and conditions that created the moratorium and within the Constitution and Laws of Guyana.
“There should be no “crowding out” of views in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-party society”, the President of the Press Association noted.
World Press Freedom Day is observed globally on May 3, recognising the work being done by journalists and the need for there to be a free press in all corners of the world. This year marks 20 years since the day is being celebrated.