Controversial Broadcast (Amendment) Bill

first_imgA cursory research would reveal that freedom of the press is generally defined as the right to circulate opinions in print without censorship by the Government.Freedom of the media is understood to be the freedom of communication and expression through various mediums, such as electronic media and published materials.Freedom of expression is the right to express one’s ideas and opinions freely through speech, writing, and other forms of communication, but without deliberately causing harm to others’ character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements. Freedom of the press is also part of freedom of expression.Even if a more extensive research is conducted, it would not change the basic tenets of what constitute the freedoms alluded to. These are not only enshrined, but have been growing across this evolving world, reaching places once considered impossible. With the aid of evolving technology, which continues to enlighten and empower, its global spread is unstoppable, and consolidates with every passing day.Unfortunately, there are still parts of the world where freedom is yearned for. For those who have attained and experienced freedom, the sense of empowerment and identity it precipitates is beyond belief. In such circumstances, a return to what originally obtain could never be contemplated.Here, in Guyana, an extensive period of post-colonial rule has been marred by oppression, when the most basic of freedoms — the right to express one’s self — was cruelly taken away. That was not only physically done in many instances, but the prevailing repression and persecution inundated our minds with fear; fear to publicly identify with the overflowing desire to break the shackles of domination. Eventually, as the old cliché of time offering hope would bestow, the freedom of expression and the media returned, after almost three decades. What followed over the years was unprecedented; a plethora of media entities of various mediums was established across the country.The right to expression then mirrored that of the free world — the bastion of democracy. In this once oppressed nation, through the newly established media houses, both print and electronic, criticisms which were often extremely harsh of the Government were unleashed, and became not only acceptable, but a norm. It was unheard of up to that point, and any suggestion of a semblance of muzzling through the articulation or writing of anyone was met with robust unified and widespread condemnation.That exemplified a transition in mindset, from one that was forced to be fearful to one that was not prepared to relinquish freedom. It also exemplifies the empowerment freedom brings to a nation and its people.That is why the recently passed Broadcast Amendment Bill is seen by many as a wanton attempt to infringe and erode that hard-earned freedom. Even if one were to see it from the Government’s perspective, the mere enshrining of a right by the authority, under the guise of public service announcements (PSA), to dictate to the media what must be broadcast, and when, is a direct violation of what constitutes freedom of the media.The fear started in the public domain over this Bill, which is awaiting assent by the President, is profoundly real. Given that these freedoms are enshrined, the constitutionality of the current Bill cannot escape scrutiny.Is the action of the Government, through the Bill, a manifestation of them fearing criticism through public airwaves? If not, is the imposition of what to broadcast and when an attempt to garner free mitigation of criticism through Government’s preferred content? At a conservative rate, one hour per day for an entire year can accrue to about ten million dollars. That is what broadcasters would be prevented from potentially earning for the slot they have to free up. In that context, one can easily regard the Bill as trampling on the right to earn. Clearly, one way or the other, the Bill infringes on rights.What has become heartening is the swift response by at least two international bodies, the International Press Institute (IPI) and Reporters Without Borders, urging the Administration to review and consult. The glaring lack of consultation during the crafting of the Bill, and the fact that the Bill has been introduced by an Administration which is, by and large, the same as that during the oppressive period, exacerbates the fear.The media establishments, and by extension the workers, that stand to be affected by the consequences of the Bill would be hopeful that the red flags raised would become noticeable by both civil society here and the international community, seen as the protector of such freedoms. If the pronouncements of the International Press Institute (IPI) and Reporters Without Borders are any indication, then it appears that the wind may be blowing the flags from obscurity. Even with such hope, the history of what transpired over the infamous three-decade period teaches a different and haunting lesson. Consultation, followed by redrafting, can therefore thwart a repetition of the nation’s history. Was that history a lesson learnt?last_img read more