By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Sebas Bastian's radio station has been broadcasting for more than a week without a licence, industry regulators admitted yesterday, after its temporary permission expired on March 21.
Stephen Bereaux, the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority's (URCA) chief executive, confirmed to Tribune Business that Paramount Systems, which is majority-owned by one of the Island Luck chief's corporate vehicles, had yet to have its temporary licence extended.
He said URCA was instead working to deal with the impasse that required the temporary licence's issuance in the first place, namely the dispute with the existing operator of the 103.5 FM frequency that had been allocated to Paramount Systems.
"It has not actually been extended," Mr Bereaux said of Paramount's licence. "As of right now, we have not extended the licence. We're working on the overall issue, which has to do with Navette broadcasting on Paramount's frequency."
Tribune Business exclusively revealed last year how Mr Bastian's radio joint venture was supposed to use the 103.5 FM frequency formerly employed by ZSR Sports Radio, a station established by Olympic triple jump medallist, Frank Rutherford, and late sports broadcaster, Phil Smith.
Mr Rutherford and Mr Smith's widow are Mr Bastian's minority partners in Paramount Systems, but they - and the 103.5 FM licence - have become embroiled in a legal challenge being mounted by ZSR Sports Radio's existing operator, Navette Broadcasting.
Navette Broadcasting and its principals, Cheryl Braynon and Van Ferguson, are opposing the station's majority takeover by Mr Bastian on the basis that they are the true holders of the 103.5 FM licence.
It is continuing to broadcast on that wavelength until the legal action it has initiated is resolved, with Mr Ferguson yesterday telling Tribune Business that Navette was preparing to broadcast this week's CARIFTA track and field championships from the Thomas A. Robinson stadium.
He added that Navette was now awaiting a date from the Court of Appeal, after its case bounced back and forth between the Supreme Court and Utilities Appeal Tribunal (UAT), both ruling that they did not have jurisdiction to hear the matter.
However, Mr Bereaux indicated that URCA is looking to resolve the issue before that, although he declined to go into detail on how this will be achieved. "I very much hope it's a matter of days," the URCA chief told Tribune Business. "We are really trying to resolve this as quickly as we can.
"There have been a number of hearings at court, none of which have overturned URCA's immediate decision. As of right now, Navette is unlawfully using the frequency assigned to Paramount.
"We are working very urgently to try and stop it, and are addressing that as we speak. We stand by our decision on that, and are seeking to address that with respect to any ongoing court proceedings."
URCA granted Mr Bastian's Paramount Systems a three-month temporary licence to use the 105.3 FM frequency on December 21, 2017, until the dispute with Navette was resolved. That expired on March 21, 2018, and has not been renewed, although URCA effectively has the ability to renew it with a 'stroke of the pen'.
The interim order, which was only publicly released after Tribune Business exposed the matter, angered many in the radio industry who accused URCA of giving Mr Bastian 'special treatment' by adding another licence to an already over-saturated market where many operators are struggling to make ends meet.
URCA and Mr Bereaux have denied this, with their interim order blaming Navette for the impasse because it was "in continued use of the frequency [103.5 FM] without a licence". It added that the Supreme Court and Utilities Appeal Tribunal both declined to hear Navette's case, with the latter saying the company's contractual arrangements required the dispute to go to arbitration first.
Mr Ferguson, who appeared to be unaware of URCA's latest intentions, continues to dispute URCA's findings that Navette only operated ZSR Sports Radio on Messrs Rutherford and Smith's behalf, with the duo being the actual licensees.
He argued that URCA had ignored the fact that the licence could not have existed without Navette following passage of the 2009 Communications Act, which required all broadcast licences to be held by incorporated companies. ZSR's licence, issued pre-2009, was in the names of Messrs Rutherford and Smith and thus non-compliant with the new Act.
"That's where URCA is in error," Mr Ferguson told Tribune Business. "They are not telling the truth on how the licence came into existence. We were the incorporated company in 2009.
"You need to have an incorporated company to have a licence. We provided the incorporated company, and the licence says it's for Navette. They've tried to discount that as it was never written.
"Our contention was they [URCA] did not have the right to do what they did on June 15 last year, eliminate us and let Frank Rutherford move on and go to a new company and partner," he continued.
"Our point of claim is that there's equity for Navette in that licence. It's not clear cut. That it was able to be given to Frank Rutherford and he walks away with it; we had equity in that licence. We helped it come into being. It's not a situation where they had that licence beforehand. That licence existed once we made it exist."
Mr Ferguson said Navette's fight was with URCA, not Mr Bastian and Paramount, adding that "we'd love for this to get to court so it gets cleared up and we can go back to work".
Acknowledging that the matter had been "a real distraction for the last year", he added that Navette was "pursuing this so aggressively" because the outcome could set a precedent for, and affect, other radio station operators - especially those whose licences dated from pre-2009.