ATTORNEYS for Maha Sabha leader Satnaryan Maharaj and Radio and TV Jaagriti yesterday fired off a pre-action protocol letter to the Telecommunications Authority (TATT) accusing the authority of abusing its power.
The television station has also denied broadcasting any content which was “divisive, inciteful, inappropriate, or derogatory to Tobagonians.” Lawyers for Central Broadcasting Services - parent company of Radio and TV Jaagriti - and Maharaj said about nine policemen descended on the television station at about 11 am yesterday, claiming to have a warrant, but refused to provide them with a copy.
The officers left with copies of recordings of television programmes broadcast on April 16, although TATT’s letters to CBS sought copies of recording of programmes shown on TV Jaagriti on April 15. Maharaj’s lawyers have since written to the Commissioner of Police seeking a copy of the warrant.
TATT BACKS DOWN
Late yesterday, TATT’s acting chief executive officer Cynthia Reddock-Downes wrote to CBS’s and Maharaj’s attorneys informing them that the authority “has no intention to apply any further sanction” on the station. She said “specifically” the authority did not intend to prevent or, in any way, interfere with the CBS’s programmes from airing on any of the TV and radio stations” or preventing it from producing or hosting the Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme. However, she added, “The authority does reserve the right to further sanction should the said breach recur.” The authority had found that CBS and TV Jaagriti had breached the concession granted to it.
In its letters to CBS, TATT’s compliance officer said the authority had received a complaint about a programme on the station and, pursuant to section 18(1)(m) of the Telecommunications Act and Clause D34 of the concession granted to CBS, wanted DVD-R recordings of all programmes hosted by Maharaj and broadcast on TV Jaagriti on April 15. TATT gave CBS seven days to hand up the recordings. However, attorneys Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Tacklalsingh and Stefan Ramkissoon, in their letter to TATT, objected that the nature of the complaint and the complainer were not disclosed to CBS, and two hours after they received the first letter, they received an e-mail from TATT.
In that e-mail, TATT said it had come to its attention that on the Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on April 15, “disturbing statements” were made by Maharaj which TATT found “divisive and inciteful.” The e-mail said it found the statements “were inappropriate and derogatory to Tobagonians as equal citizens of this country and therefore a breach of concession Clause D9.”
ATTORNEY: TATT IN BREACH
In the letter on behalf of CBS and Maharaj, Ramkissoon said TATT arrived at an adverse finding in breach of the principles of natural justice and fairness. He said TATT had a duty to particularise the complaint and give his clients an opportunity to be heard. He accused TATT of deliberately breaching its own policy “in its haste to condemn” his clients.
“There is simply no good reason why TATT would not only fail to afford our clients with basic fairness but deliberately refuse to follow its own policy on a seemingly predetermined path to embarrass, humiliate and condemn our clients in the eyes of the public.”
In their own complaints, Ramkissoon said neither TV Jaagriti nor Maharaj hosted the Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on April 15.
He added that “had TATT allowed our clients the right to be heard, this would have been made known to it,” adding that it was “quite extraordinary” that TATT was able to find material from which to arrive at its findings.
He questioned how TATT was able to get the material only hours after it wrote to CBS on Wednesday, and insisted that the television station never broadcast any content which was “divisive, inciteful, inappropriate, or derogatory to Tobagonians.”
“None of their broadcasts incited individuals to engage in imminent, lawless conduct.” Ramkissoon also said his clients also enjoyed the right to express political views, freedom of thought and expression and freedom of the press, which are entrenched in the Constitution “and cannot easily be displaced.”
Therefore, he argued, “The actions by TATT are therefore contrary to law and if allowed to go unchecked, would have a chilling effect on the content of broadcasters’ programme and right to express political dissent in general.”
He also wrote, “Given the actions of TATT, the only logical interference which can be derived from same is that the authority has allowed itself to become an instrument of oppression orchestrated to suppress freedom of speech, political dissent and freedom of expression.
The station’s lawyers threatened to seek an injunction from the High Court preventing TATT from taking any action against their clients, if TATT did not reconsider its decision and rescind the findings of its second letter sent on Wednesday.