‘Attack on press freedom’

CHIME FM radio station is back on the airwaves three days after it was ordered closed due to alleged pressure from the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.

The National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC), headed by Dr Linus Spencer Thomas wrote to Grant Communications Limited on October 16 and ordered the station to stop broadcasting on the grounds that it did not have a valid broadcast licence to do so.

The move against the station, operated by veteran broadcaster George Grant contrasts significantly with that of another privately owned radio station of an activist of the government, Andre Donald who is behind REAL FM in the northern parish of St. Patrick.

NTRC has confirmed to this newspaper that REAL FM which carries a number of government programmes and activities has been operating illegally for several years since it does not have a broadcast licence to be on air.

According to an official of the Commission, steps will now be taken to ensure that all radio stations are operating in accordance with the laws of the country.

The official declined to offer an explanation as to why NTRC singled out CHIME FM for “special treatment” although the owners were granted a valid licence under the former National Democratic Congress (NDC) government of Tillman Thomas and not the illegal REAL FM.

Against the above backdrop, the NDC issued a statement condemning the NNP regime for the crack down on CHIME FM:

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) strongly condemns the shutdown of Chime FM, and sees this move by authorities as groundless, reckless, an attack on press freedom and an attack on the Constitution of Grenada.

Using the reasons given to take the radio station off the air as explained by Mr. George Grant and which have not been contradicted by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC) or the government, is an attack on the heart of Grenada’s Constitution at a time when we are discussing constitutional reform and demonstrates how disingenuous the government is.

This action must be condemned by everyone who cares about Grenada’s current and future democracy and the rule of law.

The NDC feels that the way the NTRC (as the state authority responsible for broadcast licenses) acted, sends a frightening message to the press and demonstrates the government’s intolerance of independent and/or critical views.

It should be noted that the NDC, on coming into office in 2008, found many FM stations to be operating without a license and by 2012, had issued twenty (20) licenses.

Despite the efforts of the government and the NTRC during that period, one station failed to meet the requirements but was not shut down but rather given time to regularise the situation. It is our understanding that to date, that station is still operating without a valid license.

We request the NTRC, in the interest of transparency, to release to the public, the action taken against other persons operating without a valid license and to update its license register on its web site – http://ntrc.gd/Licence%20Register.html.

Having seen Mr. George Grant’s statement and the letter sent by the NTRC, there are no good reasons the NTRC could give to convince the people that its decision was not high-handed, biased and irregular and we call on the NTRC, the Minister of Communication & Works, and the NNP administration to respect the internationally recognised standards of freedom of expression and freedom of the press it purports to uphold, and to cease all further acts of harassment and intimidation against journalists and media houses and to quickly reverse the decision and allow Chime FM to continue its normal operations and to operate freely and without fear of repercussion.

This is a threat to democracy and human rights; it is an affront to fundamental human rights of the citizen which is guaranteed in our constitution. Further, this is seen as a contradicting move by a government which declared its commitment to freedom of the press.

Paying lip service to press freedom is not enough.

The singling out of a radio station by the NTRC and by extension, the government, just for doing its job of keeping the public informed, is very disturbing. Mr. Grant is an internationally recognized broadcaster and journalist and is listened to worldwide via the Internet and this action puts Grenada in a bad light.

We strongly urge the NTRC to play its role as media regulator, to consider its actions carefully and to not exceed its powers or exercise its authority in an arbitrary manner under government pressure and not to succumb to the temptations of some who would like to abuse their political position to indulge their desire to clamp down on the media.

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