– Not enough focus on women, children’s issues – says Manickchand
Access to officials and availability of information became a talking point yesterday at a Ministry of Human Services report launch.
The report titled ‘Media Trends: Representations of Women and Children in the Guyanese Media 2008 -2009’ is a joint effort between the Ministry and UNICEF. It was authored by Dr. Paloma Mohamed and is based on research into the coverage of issues and events centered on Women and Children in both the print and electronic media.
Speaking for the Guyana Press Association (GPA) was President of the body, Gordon Moseley. He began his presentation by addressing Dr. Mohamed’s recommendation that the media put more emphasis on the capture of perpetrators of crimes against women and children.
Dr. Mohamed had noted that these crimes are sensationalized but very little is said about the perpetrators and about the efforts to find and punish them for their crimes. She contended that this imbalance in reporting could create the perception that one can commit such a crime and ‘get away with it’.
Moseley said that to be fair to the media, they do routinely follow up on cases of domestic violence especially with regard to the killing of women.
He said, “A lot of times the killers are not caught and when they are … they take about four or five years to make it through our court system.”
Moseley noted that he was not going to be naïve about the fact that there was a need for improvement in the coverage of women and children’s issues. He said that some media practitioners need to be more sensitive to these persons and issues as well as being more mindful of the impact that their stories may have on the lives of others.
He noted that in reporting on these issues there may have been times when coverage was not what it should have been but that on the flip side, ‘for as much as there have been horror stories there are also stories of strength, resolve and compassion.’
Moseley spoke of the need for officials in the Public and Private Sector to speak candidly to the media on the very issues that were being presented in the Media trends report.
He spoke of the difficulties that his newscast had just last week in getting information from officials at the Child Protection Agency and other areas within the Human Services Ministry as his staff attempted to do a series to mark Child Protection Week.
“This is a plight that most media operatives have to deal with every day. They are told that no one can comment on the issue outside of a few very highly placed officials. Making contact with these officials is a task in itself since attempts to contact them are met with promises to return calls that are not kept, being told that they are out of the office, or in a meeting and a host of other excuses.”
Moseley said, “… In this country there is always an official code of silence.”
He said that upon calling the Hydromet Office to get a weather forecast one is told to get in contact with the Minister of Agriculture. To get suicide information, the head of the Suicide Prevention Agency asks you to get in contact with the Minister. He noted that these things have got to change and if persons are serious about the media playing a role in the reporting of women’s and children’s issues then officials need to embrace the work of the media “and just don’t see our importance when it’s time to conduct a specially funded study or a workshop.”
Moseley said, “The Guyana Press Association is and has always been willing to work along with any group that embraces the need to ensure the development and support the growth of our media landscape – you have our commitment. Just make use of it.”
Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Priya Manickchand, said that there are several rules in terms of collaboration in the Government. She said that there is a rule which disallows public officers without written permission from the Permanent Secretary from speaking with various sectors.
The Minister said that the rule makes sense since the people that are allowed to disseminate information should be knowledgeable on all the aspects of the agency in order to give an accurate picture.
She said that it is unfortunate, but in the ‘immature’ situation that is currently in force only the very ‘high-level’ persons in the Ministries are able to disseminate this information.
She noted that to change that situation the press has a role to play. The press, according to the Minister, “has not endeared themselves to public offices because of the biased stories that have been carried.”
“I will join hands with you to advocate for a changing of that rule when you join hands with me, and people like me to bring us as a country to that mature place … where we can all perform with dignity and professionalism our respective roles.”
The Minister emphasized the point that this report is not an attack on the media; that it was an analysis of the published and aired stories that created these figures. She noted that it was to be taken as a tool to allow both parties to better serve women and children.
She added that when the media reports only on the negative things that happen then they are failing in their duties. She also pointed out that as a Minister most reporters in the media are able to contact her at any time of the day, late at night, on weekends and holidays to clarify issues at any time.
Yet there are instances, she noted, where the media does not provide enough coverage on the issues that face women and children as well as events because they are not sensational enough. She said of the media, “I myself, as a citizen, am disappointed in the coverage.”
Speaking on the issue of sensationalism in the media, the Minister recalled a headline from earlier in the year that proclaimed “10,050 reports received by the Child Protection Agency”. She noted that a year before that report there was no Child Protection Agency – “… that was something to sing about.”
Another unsung issue was that each of those 10,000 reports were answered and investigated.
She also called on reporters to view the report in the spirit that it was written and to view the content as a call to improve ourselves all around. Her final challenge was to the Press Association for them to “… get your act together and get a code of conduct drafted and published.”
She noted that just as the Government has duties so too does the organization and one of these is to get a code published. She encouraged the organization not to await perfection but to draft the code and publish it.
The Minister also charged the media houses with making an effort to get more positive stories and to make the space to publish or air those stories in an effort to change the statistics of the report.
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