Over the last several years, Guyana witnessed two resurrections of the media code of conduct seminars/workshops; more like media reunions; to bring some kind of sanity to election coverage; to enhance professionalism among journalists.
But clearly, these media reunions did not raise the bar for a professional media code of conduct. The evidence of a poor media code of conduct is available everyday in the print and electronic media.
The so-called ‘prestigious’ SN, invariably, carries skewed editorial pieces; the most recent being the editorial of April 12, 2009 on local government reforms. I will not attempt to address its biases in this piece.
It is very obvious to me that SN over time has developed a reputation for presenting misleading and erroneous information; and which bears captions inconsistent both with the texts as well as what actually obtains.
Many of Guyana’s media houses are guilty of embracing a daily eruption of fog facts in the news, where useful information systematically fades away through opined newscasts; the result is a paralysis of analysis of the information; newscasts are supposed to inform; not to disinform, not to deceive, and not to distort.
But I want to comment on the growing media freedom in this country, and would suggest that the media charlatans occasionally remind themselves, of when once upon a time, there was total governmental control of the mass media.
The 1970s and 1980s in Guyana may seem like many moons ago; the age of coercion where the rulers saw no limits to their authority and had the capacity to regulate all social life.
Distinguished Professsor Clive Thomas in an interview in 2000 gave some sense of the regime in the 1970s and 1980s: “The truth however, is that this regime had been installed in power through a colonial maneuver with the electoral system before Independence in 1966, and maintained itself in power for nearly three decades through the systematic rigging of national elections and the employment of force and intimidation against all opposition to it.” This was a period of intense crisis. How did the media fare in this scenario?
How can we recognise a coercive political system, or maybe something approximating totalitarianism? Detection may happen through the following: a government using a total ideology to control people’s lives; a single party no different from the government; extensive use of intimidation; total control of mass media; monopoly over weaponry and armed forces; and state control of the economy.
The government of the 1970s and 1980s administered a coercive political framework, or may be something akin to authoritarianism.
Free speech and free press were unheard of in the Guyanese vernacular in the 1970s and 1980s. As we hit the 1970s, the National Security Act already was in place; this law suspended the right to Habeas Corpus; and gave the government powers to restrict and detain Guyanese without trial for an indefinite period.
Part II of the National Security Act was reenacted in 1977 to indefinitely detain Guyanese without bail and trial.
It’s important to understand the status of media freedom within the political framework under which it operates; clearly, media freedom had to be a scarce commodity within a framework of detention without bail and trial in the 1970s and 1980s, a conduit for the PNC Government’s authoritarian behaviour; a scenario that ensured curtailment of media freedom to reduce dissent in the 1970s and 1980s in this country. Clearly, media freedom is not within the lingua franca of a coercive political system.
Guyana is witnessing today increasing media freedom within a democratic political framework, meaning that that this country can boast of explicit free press and free speech.
And perhaps, the time has now come where media houses, in their modus operandi, need to provide greater weighting to their responsibilities and obligations than to their rights.
What Guyana is experiencing today is the case where media houses place greater weighting to their rights than to their responsibilities; the result unsurprisingly is a growing abuse of press freedom.
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