– Radio monopoly, strained relations with Presidency cited
After riding “high” last year, Guyana has dropped 20 places in the world rankings press freedom index released yesterday by the France-based, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), which cited deteriorating relationship between media and the ruling government.
In the RWBs Press Freedom Index report, “Guyana experienced a significant reversal, due to the often strained relations between the media and the presidency, as well as to the government’s radio monopoly.”
Guyana in this latest report is ranked 59 out of 178 countries, significant when compared to being 39 out of 173 countries in the listings last year for press freedom.
In 2008, Guyana had ranked 88 out of 173 countries.
Significant in the figures is that Guyana, the report says, is “somewhat outranked by the six islands of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), which entered the Index with the same rankings, right after Haiti, where the media are ensuring their survival by focusing on rebuilding after the January 12, 2010 earthquake.”
Over the past months, sections of the media, including Kaieteur News and Stabroek News, two independent dailies, have come under attacks from the ruling PPPC administration, and Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo. They have even been deemed as the “new opposition”.
A decision, earlier this year, to also place Government ads on a website was also seen as attempts to further muzzle the press.
Recently, members of the media who have been attending press conferences and other events at the Office of the President, were evicted with the official explanation that the government-issued press passes are required although the locally-based Guyana Press Association (GPA) is arguing otherwise.
Beating out Guyana in the region were 25th-ranked Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago at 30; Suriname at 35; Haiti at 56 and neighboring Brazil at 58, one place ahead of Guyana.
In a statement yesterday, RWB’s Secretary General, Jean-Francois Julliard, this latest world press freedom index contains welcome surprises, highlights sombre realities and confirms certain trends. It is the ninth annual index today for the press watchdog body.
“More than ever before, we see that economic development, institutional reform and respect for fundamental rights do not necessarily go hand in hand. The defence of media freedom continues to be a battle, a battle of vigilance in the democracies of old Europe and a battle against oppression and injustice in the totalitarian regimes still scattered across the globe.”
The official said that it salutes the examples set by the “engines of press freedom”, referring to Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland which led the list of countries where press freedom were encouraged.
“We must also pay homage to the human rights activists, journalists and bloggers throughout the world who bravely defend the right to speak out. Their fate is our constant concern.
The body also blasted Europe for deteriorating figures.
“It is disturbing to see several European Union member countries continuing to fall in the index. If it does not pull itself together, the European Union risks losing its position as world leader in respect for human rights. And if that were to happen, how could it be convincing when it asked authoritarian regimes to make improvements?
There is an urgent need for the European countries to recover their exemplary status.”
The NGO also expressed worry by the harsher line being taken by governments at the other end of the index.
“Rwanda, Yemen and Syria have joined Burma and North Korea in the group of the world’s most repressive countries towards journalists. This does not bode well for 2011. Unfortunately, the trend in the most authoritarian countries is not one of improvement.”
Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly expressed its concern about the deteriorating press freedom situation in the European Union and the 2010 index confirms this trend.
Thirteen of the EUs, 27 members are in the top 20 but some of the other 14 are very low in the ranking. Italy is 49th, Romania is 52nd and Greece and Bulgaria are tied at 70th.
“The European Union is not a homogenous whole as regards media freedom. On the contrary, the gap between good and bad performers continues to widen.”
Further to the north, the United States of America and Canada still occupy the continent’s best positions, but they lag behind some twenty other countries.
“The initial results of the Obama administration in terms of access to information are disappointing,” RWB said.
The other countries share some persistent problems – an over-concentration of media, economic disparities, local tensions, excessive number of legal proceedings, media coverage restrictions. Brazil can now be added to the countries with improved rankings already observed in the South Cone (Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay).
“The Latin American giant owes its better position to a decline in incidents of serious violence – which had previously been undermining certain regions – and to some pledges to fight against impunity in certain affairs. It also owes its improved ranking to favourable legislative changes in matters relating to access of information and editorial freedom, such as the reaffirmation of the right to caricaturise in an election period.”
Lastly, Brazil is one of the world’s most active Internet communities. The situation there would be better still if preventive censorship measures were not being imposed on certain media outlets, RWB said.
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