Jagdeo awarded 13 channels to E-Networks
-PPP’s Freedom Radio has widest reach in Guyana
BHARRAT Jagdeo as President of Guyana back in 2011 awarded 13 channels to E-Networks Incorporated – the most of any single broadcasting entity currently operating in Guyana.
This revelation was made by Minister of State Joseph Harmon in the National Assembly on Friday during the debate on the 2011 Broadcast (Amendment) Bill. During his presentation, Minister Harmon examined the distribution of broadcast licences by Jagdeo just prior to him demitting office in 2011.
According to the list provided by the minister, in Regions Three and Four, E-Networks secured 10 channels: 36, 37, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48 and 49. In Regions Five and Six, the company was awarded channels 43, 44, 45, 48 and 49 – bringing the total to 13. E-Networks is owned by Vishok Persaud, who is the brother of People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Parliamentarian Vindhya Persaud and son of late PPP stalwart and minister, Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud.
Coming in second was the National Communications Network (NCN) with eight channels spanning seven regions across the country. In relation to radio licences, while NCN was granted the most frequencies of any single entity, Freedom Radio Inc – which is owned by the PPP– was granted the widest broadcast reach in the country. The broadcast area where the party’s station has been able to penetrate includes: Regions Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, and 10. The only other radio station to compete with Freedom Radio was IRadio Inc., which was owned by then PPP Minister Robert Persaud. IRadio reached seven of the 10 administrative regions in Guyana. Persaud sold the entity to ANSA McAL after the PPP lost the General Elections in 2015.
In 2011, Jagdeo had granted 11 licences under the colonial Post and Telegraph Act just before the November 2011 General and Regional elections. It was a move that saw widespread criticism from the public and the then political opposition. The amended Broadcast Act now requires all operators to reapply for licences within 30 days of the President assenting to the bill which was passed on Friday evening.
During the debate, from which Jagdeo was absent, Minister Harmon said that clarity needs to be provided for the Guyanese to know exactly what happened with the country’s scarce national resource. He was speaking about the frequencies which were handed out by the PPP government.
“This bill is going to correct what Jagdeo did. The people of this country require us to act and we will act,” Minister Harmon said. He added too that what the amendment seeks to do, is break the shackles placed on freedom of expression, and give the Guyanese people a chance to benefit from a variety of content and not just those produced by affiliates of the Opposition Leader.
However, PPP MP Anil Nandlall would have none of it. Nandlall defended Jagdeo in his absence, arguing that although these licences were given out, they were done legally as the persons had applied.
He advanced the argument that no individual or entity has approached the court to challenge those grants, which means that they were done within the confines of the law. “All of the persons granted are Guyanese and would have applied and were deemed successful. There has been no argument which shows that they were not fit to be granted licences. How can you fault the agency for not applying?” he questioned.
However, the University of Guyana and Stabroek News – one of the country’s leading publications – had applied and neither was granted broadcast licences for reasons still unknown. Nandlall also defended E-Networks, arguing that the company has contributed over $150M in licences fees over the last five years. But this ushered in much heckling from the Government’s side of the house, with one MP declaring: “That’s their responsibility, every broadcaster has to pay to use state resources.” Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo also weighed in on the issue, arguing that the debate on the amendments saw a political and vested interest taking control of the opposition. He said that the opposition MPs were not interested in the content of that bill, but rather, were focused on whether they would be deprived of proprietary rights.
Further, he stated that the granting of Freedom Radio to the PPP was arbitrarily done, since the 2011 law was not assented to. “That was arbitrarily done; illegally done. 11 licences were given for 22 frequencies to political friends and cronies,” the PM reminded the House.
In 2001, as a result of the dialogue between Jagdeo and then Opposition Leader, the late Desmond Hoyte, it was agreed that no new licences for either radio or television would be issued until an impartial and autonomous Broadcast Authority was established.
Subsequently, in 2003, a communique between then Opposition Leader Robert Corbin and Jagdeo ratified this arrangement that no licences would be issued until the Broadcast Authority was established.
Between 2001 and 2011, this provision was used by the then PPP government to deny anyone a TV or radio licence. Even existing stations were denied expansion, since it would have meant granting them additions to their licences. However, in 2011, Jagdeo breached this long-standing agreement by awarding licences to several known affiliates and supporters of the then PPP government. Among the other persons granted licences by him were the Little Rock Television Station (Berbice), Hits and Jams, Maxwell Thom, Alfro Alphonso, Haslyn Graham, Anand Persaud and Dr Bobby Ramroop – a known friend of Jagdeo and 2015 PPP candidate.