New York, October 6, 2011--Guyanese president Bharrat Jagdeo has suspended television station CNS6 from broadcasting for four months in the period leading up to the presidential elections, according to local news reports. The suspension stemmed from a May 4 broadcast that aired comments about a local bishop who is a close associate of the president, news reports said.
"We are alarmed that President Bharrat Jagdeo has decided to suspend television station CNS6," said CPJ's Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. "All Guyanese media must be allowed to report the news freely before the presidential election so that citizens can access information from multiple sources."
In May, parliament member Tony Viera, who hosts a commentary program on the station, criticized local bishop Juan Edghill, chairman of the government's Ethnic Relations Commission, and accused him of promoting the government's interests, The Associated Press reported. Edghill initiated a civil suit against Viera, and on Friday, the president announced that he was suspending the station, starting on October 3, for libeling the bishop, news reports said.
The press reported that the suspension was originally for eight months, but the ban was shortened after station owners Chandra Narine Sharma, leader of an opposition party, and Savitrie Singh-Sharma appealed to him personally. The couple also told the Demerara Waves Online News that they would have to lay off approximately 30 employees and that the president said they could appeal the decision after a new president was elected. They are now considering their legal options, a news report said today.
Opposition groups have questioned the pre-election timing of the suspension, calling it an "outrage," press reports said. The president told reporters that the decision and its timing were not politically motivated, and said that Viera's statements were "inciting religious intolerance."
In Guyana, the president, who also serves as minister of information, makes all decisions regarding violations of the broadcast license for television stations. The AP reported that CNS6 was suspended for four months last year after it aired footage of the president dancing at a party and said he was celebrating while the country was experiencing mass flooding.