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… as broadcaster bemoan exorbitant fees
– authority urges defaulters to visit office, agree to payment plan
By Svetlana Marshall
Close to $174M in Broadcast Licence Fees remain outstanding, Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) Board Secretary and Administrative Manager, Violet Boyal has said.
In an interview with Village Voice Newspaper, Boyal said though GNBA implemented a number of systems to encourage financial compliance, not many broadcasters have opted to capitalize on those initiatives.
Having been very patient and lenient, Boyal said approximately two weeks ago, the broadcast authority publicized the names of 26 cable, radio and television broadcasters, who have been financially noncompliant, with the hope that they would bring themselves inline, however, only two of those companies have issued payments to date.
Those two companies have been identified as the National Communications Network (NCN) and Keystone Solutions Inc. According to the Administrative Manager, the radio broadcasters have both made part payments and have signed promissory notes, committing to future payments.
Blackman and Sons Inc., another radio broadcaster, and Countryside Broadcasting Inc- a television broadcaster based in Berbice – have indicated to the authority that payments will be issued later this year.
With millions of dollars in Broadcast Licence Fees still outstanding, Boyal is encouraging broadcasters to visit GNBA’s Queenstown, Georgetown Office to work-out a payment plan. “…Come in, sit with us, and we can work out a payment plan base on the amount of money outstanding,” Boyal said while noting that broadcasters will also be required to sign promissory notes.
Of the 26 broadcasters with outstanding fees, three are cable networks, 12 are radio stations and 11 are television stations. Brutal Group Inc, CNC Inc, Linden Wireless Communications Network, News Talk Radio Inc., Pinnacle Communications Inc, Wireless Connections Inc, Multi-Cultural Communications Inc. and ANG Inc are among those still in arrears.
One day after GNBA issued the July 15 notice urging financial compliance, Glenn Lall, the proprietor of National Media & Broadcasting Company Ltd who operates Kaieteur Radio, complained bitterly about the ‘steep fee’ associated with broadcasting in Guyana. “We just can’t pay it. If we have to, we will have to shut down the place,” Lall said while appearing on Benschop Radio 107.1.
Nigel Blackman, who operates HBTV Channel Nine as well as a radio station, 96.1 which falls under the Blackman and Sons brand, said the Broadcast Licence Fee is too high. According to him, there is no basis for the high fees. “It has been put there arbitrarily, until now no one has claimed what it is for or how they came to that figure,” Blackman said.
But the GNBA Administrative Manager told Village Voice Newspaper that it was only in 2017 that the Broadcast Act was amended to reflect lower fees. “The Act was amended to reduce fees according to zones, if you were paying a million, if you were in the primary zone, you drop to half the amount; if you are in the secondary zone, another half of that amount; if you are in the tertiary zone, half of that amount. I don’t know what more they want,” Boyal said.
Based on GNBA’s fee structure, established in accordance with the Broadcasting Amendment Act 2017, broadcasters in the primary zone are required to pay a fee of $1.2M or 3.5% of gross revenue of the preceding year whichever is greater in the case of television stations; $2.5M or 3.5% of gross revenue in the case of radio broadcasters and $1.2M or 3.5% of gross revenue in the case of Cable operators. In the Secondary Zone, television and cable operators are required to pay a fee of $600,000 each or 3.5% of their gross revenue while radio broadcasters are required to pay a fee of $1.250M or 3.5% of their gross revenue.
Similarly, in the Tertiary Zone, the broadcast fees for television and cable operators have been set at $300,000 each or 3.5% of their gross revenue while radio stations are required to pay $625,000. The Community Broadcasting Service fee is $150,000 whether radio or television.
Boyal iterated that when compared to the previous fee structure, the fees are significantly lower.
While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a slowdown in economic activities, Boyal said the pandemic is no excuse for nonpayment, since long before the pandemic started, broadcasters were defaulting on their payments.
“Long before the pandemic people owed the authority and they were not paying. We had reached out to them, for them to come in and sign an agreement, a few of them did, they started to make their payments, one payment, two payments, and then they ceased,” Boyal recalled.
She called that in celebration of Guyana’s 50th Republic Anniversary another concession was offered but only four broadcasters capitalized on the opportunity.
“Four broadcasters responded; the majority, who owed big sums never came to us. Now if the authority had those monies coming in long before this pandemic I think special concessions, not waivers (we don’t have the power to waive anything…), would have been granted for persons to pay in tranches but that didn’t happen before the pandemic,” she reasoned.
Boyal said GNBA needs finance to stay afloat. “So how is the authority to survive? We do not get monies from the government to keep us afloat, we depend upon the license fees,” Boyal said.
GNBA, in its last notice, pointed out that it is empowered to take action against delinquent broadcasters.