Wednesday, April 09, 2008

President head hunts Sharma...again

Channel Six told licence in jeopardy over ‘infringement’

April 9, 2008

-Sharma summoned to meeting with Luncheon

Dr Roger Luncheon
Dr Roger Luncheon

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon yesterday wrote to CN Sharma inviting the television station owner to meet with him tomorrow at the Office of the President to show cause why his licence shouldn’t be cancelled or suspended for alleged infringements on air.

A caller to Sharma’s Voice of the People programme made explosive comments during an airing on February 21, 2008, leading to the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) writing to Sharma on February 26, 2008. Sharma then apologized in writing on February 28 and the ACB accepted this and said there would be no further action. The ACB wrote Sharma again on March 10, 2008, reprimanding him on the rebroadcast of the offending programme on February 22 and 23 based on complaints it had received from the public.

CN Sharma
CN Sharma

Sharma then replied on March 28 apologising again and pointing out that the re-broadcasts had occurred prior to the receipt of the first reprimand from the ACB and, without his knowledge, by the person who books programmes. The ACB did not reply but it accepted Sharma’s explanation on the second infringement. The government has however taken a different position as evidenced by Luncheon’s letter to Sharma.

Speaking to this newspaper last night, Chairman of the ACB Pat Dial said that he didn’t know of the letter sent to Sharma by Dr Luncheon yesterday. He said that the ACB had accepted Sharma’s apology and had made no recommendation for further sanctions against the television station owner.

Dial said too that the ACB did not respond to Sharma’s letter of March 28, 2008.
Pat Dial
Pat Dial

The ACB subsequently sent copies of its letters to Sharma to the Minister with responsibility for telecommunications – the President.

“The Minister is of the opinion that your written responses to the ACB concerning the abovementioned alleged infringements of your Licence conditions are not adequate. Further, the Minister is of the opinion that the abovementioned alleged infringements are sufficiently grave to warrant cancellation or suspension of your Licence,” the HPS said in the letter to Sharma.

Luncheon then invited Sharma to meet with him on behalf of the minister concerning the alleged infringements “and to show cause why your licence should not be cancelled or suspended therefore. You may elect to bring with you, your legal or other representative”.

According to the ACB, the channel aired the following:

Caller: “The President was out of the country. As soon as he got back he knew exactly who did the massacre at Bartica.”

Host: “How do you know he knew?”

Caller: “He made that statement yesterday on the air…the very people who did the act at Lusignan did that there. How can he prove that? What evidence does he have to prove that?”

This statement the ACB deemed to be an infringement upon clause 23 A (b) of the station’s license “in that it is offensive to public feeling in that it attempts to trivialize a serious statement made by the Head of State and is presented without due accuracy as it was widely reported that forensic tests had linked the weapons and ammunition used in both the Lusignan and Bartica killings.”

But the statement that made the ACB sit up was this:

Caller: “…and the next thing, Mr Sharma, Jagdeo have some expire ministers walking with him and them giving up a lot of new fire as far as I am concerned. Because look at these killings and nobody can’t give account for these people’s lives and Jagdeo going to take a high risk job by going and telling people to calm down; he’s going to bury the dead bodies. If anything is going to happen to my family, I am going to kill Jagdeo.”

For his part, Sharma told this newspaper that when the statement was made, he objected, telling the caller that he couldn’t say such things.

According to the ACB the last statement by the caller infringed 23 A of the licence since it offends against good taste, is offensive to public feeling and is an incitement to crime.

The March 10, 2008 letter stated: “Since our letter to you of 26th February 2008, on the matter of an “infringement” in the terms of your licence in relation to the broadcast of your Voice of the People programme aired on 21st February 2008, the Commit-tee has received a number of complaints that you rebroadcast the programme on the succeeding days of 22nd and 23rd February 2008, with the offending words intact.

“The reason for the classification of the new broadcast as an infringement is that even though the broadcast of 21st February 2008, was apparently a spontaneous infringement, you could have edited out the offending words before re-broadcasting the programme,” the ACB said.

Sharma, in response to this letter said on March 28, 2008: “Please note, the programme in question was never re-aired after I received your initial letter dated February 26, 2008. In the instance when it was replayed prior to your letter, it was done without my knowledge by the person who books programmes, and I can assure you it was done with no intention of malice whatsoever.”

Sharma in the letter said that he was putting measures in place to ensure that this occurrence isn’t repeated. “To this end, we are in the process of engaging a delay system,” Sharma said.

On January 20, 2005, Sharma’s station had been closed down for a month when staff of the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) seized all his equipment. The station was also closed down for two days in December 2002.

Speaking to this newspaper yesterday, CN Sharma said that while he is instituting a delay system – to cost some US$5,000 to US$6,000 – he will mute the voices of his callers so that their comments cannot be heard.

He maintains that he is being singled out for harassment – while others are getting away with other serious infractions – because of the stance he took to give airtime to Opposition parties. Sharma made reference to the editorial in yesterday’s Guyana Chronicle where his talk show was referred to as a “mid-day comedy show.” He said that such references shouldn’t be made of someone who is a presidential candidate.

According to the talk show host, he has spoken to his legal counsel and will show up for the meeting with Dr Luncheon.

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