Media and Country
US Ambassador to Guyana, Brendt Hardt, has reportedly complimented the government for opening up of the airwaves by granting eleven new radio licences. However he advised that “this process comes under the purview of an impartial and transparent national broadcast authority.” We couldn’t agree more, and in fact, we hope that the criteria for such operations – which should cover all media operations – will be clearly articulated. Readers would know that this news organisation applied for a radio licence but has not been told why it was refused.
The Ambassador, however, also ventured to offer his views on the proposal, once popular in third world media circles, that the media should also take cognizance of its power to influence national development and to use its power to advance the latter. He felt this was the “job for elected representatives, working with the private sector and civil society.” He advised that the media focus on issues such as “citizens’ security, corruption or poverty or violence”.
But while this newspaper has taken the position articulated by the Ambassador – rather robustly, if we may say so – it would like to point out that the Ambassador’s opinions are reflective of the dominant view of his society and the other view cannot be dismissed out of hand without cogent reasons. We agree that media entities are important institutions in any society, not least of all in societies such as Guyana’s that are attempting to throw off centuries of underdevelopment.
It is undisputed that one of the primary reasons for underdevelopment of ex-colonial countries is the high level of illiteracy and superstition among the populace. The media, as a prime disseminator of information, is critical to assist in removing this handicap. Before summarily dismissing what is called ‘developmental journalism’ we can review what happened right here in Guyana during the seventies and the eighties when it swept the third world..
It was under such a perspective that the media here was nationalised by the then PNC administration and harnessed towards the goal of ‘national development’. It was also then that the government established a specific agency to collect and disseminate information deemed helpful towards development. This agency eventually became the GINA that the opposition recently decapitated.
What happened almost simultaneously with its promulgation is that the government not only determined what was “helpful” to development, but also what was not helpful. And this was the fly in the ointment: government was the sole arbiter of these determinations. The individuals that were appointed to execute these tasks were also all from the government and it was not surprising that very soon what was good for the government was equated with what was good for the country.
And here lies the greatest danger to the practice of “developmental journalism”. If it is to work, its monitors must be independent of the government. In this vein, while we do not reject the idea that the media must be cognizant of and be sympathetic to national goals, we believe very firmly that any monitoring body must have representatives from the media organisations so that their points of view will be taken on board.
We are also of the view that while such a body must be self-regulatory, the parameters of its remit must be established after national consultations that take in the widest spectrum of views. Such a body, we believe, must be in a position to impose or recommend sanctions if the regulations are violated. At this moment, the courts are engaged in reviewing one instance of a media outlet allegedly violating the “rules of the game”, so to speak. But because those rules were not formulated to universal acclaim, there is a strong body of opinion that the imposition of the sanction was arbitrary.
To summarise, our position on the suggestion that the media must adopt a “national” perspective on its coverage is that while the proposal has merit, we must ensure that neither the content of, nor the sanctions on, the media must be imposed by the government.