The media landscape has changed but the basics remain – US Charge d”affaires
Tomorrow is World Press freedom Day. It is the day when journalists and reporters the world over grab the attention despite there is the tenet that reporters do not make the news.
Indeed, with the change in the way news and information are being disseminated—blogs, internet and the other electronic media by the very reporters.
Charge d’affaires of the United States Embassy in Georgetown, Karen Williams, herself a journalism major during her university days, said that the landscape has changed. However, the media remains the watchdog for the society, she said. “Differences between the media and leaders represent a good thing.”
She added, though, that leaders and the media should not hate each other. “This could have an impact on objectivity.”
Reporters should have the ability to report the news as they see it, she said.
“The right of the press to freely publish, editorialise, critique, and inform is a fundamental principle of American democracy. In fact, the form of government Americans enjoy today would not have been possible without a great compromise known as the Bill of Rights.”
In any country there is the attempt by the leaders to hide information and the media seek to uncover that which the leaders seek to hide. Ms Williams said that in the media landscape there are the public relations consultants who put a spin on messages, something that a journalist must never do. “This is the key difference between the journalist and the public relations specialist. Their perspective is different.”
Commenting on the role of the press in a democracy, Ms Williams said that there will always be competing interests. The press would seek to ferret out the news, would demand transparency at every turn.
It is here that the Freedom of Information Act becomes important. In the United States, the press is protected by the First Amendment. This dictates that no law should be passed to limit or restrict the media in any way.
There are of course constraints dictated by privacy laws and national security issues, Ms Williams said. The judicial system defines the law. She said that there are issues that should not be in the public domain at a certain time, identifying such things as decisional happenings. To disclose things at the decisional stage could lead to unfair advantages, Ms Williams said.
The media, though, should be able to report on how a decision was arrived at.
There are therefore cracks in the transparency laws. To cover the cracks and to make the media even more meaningful, the country introduced the Freedom of Information legislation in 1972.
The right of the media to publish is supported by liberal libel laws. There have been injunctions, some of which led to groundbreaking decisions, Ms Williams said. And despite the liberal libel laws there has been the need for some form of self regulation.
“It is better for the media to regulate itself.” However, the United States created a regulatory framework in the form of the Federal Communication Commission. This body regulates the electronic media and communications markets.
Ms Williams said that the one area that remains alive and unchanged is investigative reporting. It is here that the media is perhaps at its best. With tomorrow being World Press freedom Day in Guyana, reporters in Guyana should develop the skill to ask questions and how to take the answers, Ms Williams said. They need to be able to piece the information and to do background checks to validate any piece of information.
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is in Guyana working with the University of Guyana in the journalism programme. It is aiding in journalism training.
Asked to comment on the role of the private sector and the media, Ms Williams said that businesses need a good media. Information on marketing needs to be dissemination.
“The more information the people get the better are they able to make important economic decisions.”
The advertising landscape is different in the United States where the government hardly ever advertises. The private sector funds the operations of the media. This is not the case in Guyana where the government is a major advertiser.
Can this affect the operations of the media? Ms Williams said that it is here that there needs to be strong relationship between the media and the private sector.