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Step up and act, Broadcasting Commission

Published:Wednesday | September 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Bernard Pantin GUEST COLUMNIST

Jamaica's cable piracy worst in Caribbean

I have been following the situation regarding the piracy of television signals in Jamaica very closely during the last 12 months and had the opportunity to attend a seminar hosted by Samuda & Johnson on the protection of intellectual property in February, during which this topic was explored. The event was attended by both Mr Cordel Green (executive director) and Dr Hopeton Dunn (chairman) of the Broadcasting Commission Jamaica (BCJ).

During the event, I raised the issue of the unauthorised broadcast of US cable channels by several of the cable operators in Jamaica. Based on my preliminary research, in several instances the number of channels being 'pirated' exceeded 20. I was less than impressed by the answers given at that time.

By way of example, as an operator myself who has inquired about obtaining distribution rights for a number of channels I have seen on cable systems, the responses given by CBC Canada ("At present, we have no authorised distributors of our channels anywhere in the Caribbean") and the Tennis Channel ("the Tennis Channel is not authorised for broadcast in the Caribbean") were very to the point.

Cordel Green's letter

Having continued to follow the issue closely, I came across the letter written by Cordel Green, executive director of the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica, in which he asserts that the "Broadcasting Commission has no legal basis to intervene."

I was simply astounded by the contents of the letter and the implications of Mr Green's public assertions given his role as the regulator. The flaw in his letter is contained very early on in the third sentence and the premise that "cable operators are distributors of channels and they do so under licences which give them no ownership or control of their content". However, this applies only in cases where channels are, in fact, licensed.

However, the 20 channels, to which I have referred earlier, are all channels that HAVE NOT been licensed by the cable operators, and Mr Green has been so informed in the past.

All of the other details in Mr Green's letter are, therefore, moot and a distraction from the main point.

It is my understanding that there is a provision in the licences granted by the BCJ to the cable operators that requires operators to show that they have licences for all of the channels they retransmit. In fact, I recall at the event that the BCJ spoke about an audit that is periodically conducted of the operators.

pirated channels

The BCJ, therefore, should know, from these audits, the channels that are not licensed and thus being pirated. The BCJ's inaction to curb the piracy that it is well aware of gives the impression that it simply lacks the fortitude to act. As regulator, it is unacceptable that it would state that it has no legal basis to intervene when the cable operators are flagrantly breaching the terms of the licences granted to them by the BCJ itself. The BCJ has the authority to enforce compliance with the provisions of its licences or have them revoked.

There is only one real solution, and that is the removal of all unauthorised channels.

This problem is not unique to Jamaica, but pervades the Caribbean. However, the piracy in Jamaica is among the most blatant and worst in the region and the BCJ must take full responsibility for same.

Bernard Pantin is general manager of DirecTV Caribbean. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

Bernard Pantin

Bernard Pantin

GUEST COLUMNIST