Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sixty applications on file for radio licences – NFMU

Sixty applications on file for radio licences – NFMU

Posted By Stabroek staff On October 21, 2009 @ 5:28 am In Local News | 12 Comments

By Iana Seales

Chief Executive Officer of the National Frequency Manage-ment Unit (NFMU), Valmikki Singh, said yesterday that the halt to radio licence applications is temporary to facilitate the processing of the 60 applications currently on file.

He cautioned there are no guarantees because the final decision is left to government.
Enrico Woolford [1]

Enrico Woolford

The NFMU is responsible for technical evaluation of the applications, Singh said, and it now has to peruse some sixty requests that are on record. He hesitated to comment on the process of the evaluations since according to him he is not “at liberty to say”. However, he noted that the processing would have to be done within a certain framework which he was also not inclined to discuss.

The NFMU essentially evaluates the applications and subsequently offers its recommendations on a particular application, and the administration ultimately decides. The specific point about government regulation was reiterated by Singh during the brief interview yesterday, prior to his comments the CEO stated that there was only so much he could say on the issue.

Singh was not prepared to offer any details on the applications on file, but he said the NFMU will soon contact the individuals who would have applied as part of the processing period. He indicated that others who are interested in a radio licence have to be patient, stating that the decision to halt applications would be re-assessed in time. “I cannot say when we are going to decide on new requests, but at some point in time we will”, Singh added.

Singh also referred to the Appeal Court ruling on the issue of radio licences saying that the NFMU has “every intention of adhering to the ruling”. Since he is yet to see a written copy of the court decision, Singh said he would reserve commenting further because “I cannot comment based on media reports”. The court had in fact criticized the NFMU for “failing to do its job” and had observed that the agency has been procrastinating over the years with respect to applications for radio licences.

On Sunday in newspaper advertisements the NFMU announced that it was no longer receiving applications for radio licences following the Court of Appeal ruling. The announcement was made in a notice carried in the Guyana Times. It said: “Notice is hereby given that in view of the recent court ruling on radio licenses and the number of applications for radio licenses currently on file, the National Frequency Management Unit will not be accepting any further applications for radio licenses, with effect from October 18, 2009.”

The Court of Appeal, in a landmark decision last week, ruled that the government monopoly on the airwaves is unlawful. The Court led by Chancellor (ag) Carl Singh and comprising Justices of Appeal B.S. Roy and Yonette Cummings-Edwards allowed an appeal filed by local television pioneer Anthony Vieira on behalf of Vieira Commu-nications Limited (VCT) ruling that VCT’s fundamental right to freedom of expression and freedom to receive and communicate ideas and information was contravened. The Court referred to precedents in the region and other jurisdictions while citing several authorities on the issue. Ironically, Vieira has since sold his TV station to the Ramroop Group and has migrated. It has been stated that the rights and privileges which VCT enjoyed as a company were transferred to the new owners upon the sale, and that this likely includes a radio licence if granted.

VCT had applied for a radio licence since 1993 and the court said that both the government and the NFMU failed to acknowledge receipt of the application. VCT had asked that the court order the NFMU to issue it with a radio licence forthwith but the Court said there are technicalities involved in making such a decision, noting that it lacks the expertise to make such an evaluation. It said the NFMU is the entity which is well placed to make such an evaluation, and it called on the unit to “do its job”. However, the court did direct the NFMU to consider and determine VCT’s application for a radio broadcast licence which was made since the early 1990s.

Radio is a service

Media practitioner Enrico Woolford said radio is a service to the people and opined that individuals interested in a licence should prove by way “of a public auction” what it is they intend to offer the people, in particular communities. He said government should not have control of radio content, and observed that administrative oversight would be better placed in determining who is worthy based on what “they bring to the table”. Using his suggestion, he explained that while the public would be allowed to judge each application based on its worth the decision to ultimately grant the licence would rest with a newly constituted Broadcast-ing Authority.

Woolford, who is the Editor-in-Chief at Capitol News, manages his own broadcasting company- EMW Communications. He told Stabroek News yesterday that his company had applied for both a television and radio licence back in 1998, and while it had been assigned a television station there was merely an acknowledgment or receipt of the radio licence application. Woolford said he had followed up on the radio licence application as recently as April this year. “…once they are considering applications currently on file I would hope mine is considered. The whole idea of opening up broadcasting speaks to a better equipped and more viable industry”, Woolford noted.

Further, Woolford mentioned that the NFMU ought to have, at the very least, informed persons with applications on file what steps they intend to take based on the court ruling rather than “take the decision to halt applications”. He said too that there is need for a more structured approach to broadcasting in general saying that government needs to better organize the industry.

Pending application

Television owner, CN Sharma has again raised the issue of his radio licence application stating in a letter to this newspaper yesterday that his applications have been pending at the NFMU since 1999. He noted that follow-up letters were sent in April and December of 2001. He referred to the recent statement by the NFMU that no further applications for radio licences will be accepted as “most heartening but let us hope that politics will not stick its head into the decision to approve, if any, radio licence”.

Sharma expressed the hope that the court ruling will be adhered to by the NFMU and that licence applications would be processed in the order they were submitted. He noted that should his request be granted it would be beneficial to the nation saying he intends to provide a meaningful avenue for employment.

“This radio station will be for the people of this country as programming will be cheaper. Children, schools, religious bodies, political parties, NGOs and other bodies will be facilitated at a cheaper cost and some even free”, he added.
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