In the wake of the passage of the recent Broadcasting Legislation and in the looming shadow of General and Local Government Elections the matter of a media code of conduct has again resurfaced.
Member of Parliament Manzoor Nadir, on Thursday last, addressed the National Assembly during the debate of the Broadcasting Bill. During that address he challenged the media on the matter of its media code of conduct.
Nadir spoke of the power of misleading broadcasts, citing the tragic genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia and the post 1997 elections violence. He then challenged all the “do-gooders” in the media who have been critical of the government by saying that the Broadcasting Legislation has been too long in the making.
Nadir noted that there has been mention of a code of conduct and asked what has been stopping the media from drafting their own code of conduct. “In every single industry we say that self regulation is better than an imposition of some legal provision.”
But the media do have a code of conduct – it was drafted to self-regulate the press coverage of the 2006 national elections.
In the absence of any legislation to regulate the broadcast media, the Commonwealth Secretariat and UNDP were in 2005 invited by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to help agree on a code of conduct between state and private media. The code which was then agreed on– and supervised by a new media monitoring unit within GECOM – committed journalists and broadcasters to adhere to fair, balanced and accurate reporting at the 2006 elections.
According to international observers, the code helped contribute to a marked reduction in violence.
Nadir went on to state that in the next few weeks time the Elections Commission will be “begging all parties to sign a code of conduct, including the media.” He went on to argue that despite the criticism that the provisions made in the Bill for operation are subjective they are still laid out and they form the basis from which more baseline standards for the operation of broadcast entities can be established.
Nadir cited the case of India in 2007 where he said that Broadcasting Legislation was being debated but was not supported by the Indian Press.
He went on to note that the Press did acknowledge the need for some legislation to properly establish the norms of decency in their operations. It was his position therefore that the Broadcasting Legislation will help to bring a certain level of decency to broadcasting in Guyana.
Chief Whip of the People’s Progressive Party Civic, Gail Teixeira, said that in recent years the whole role of civil society has changed as a result of the post elections violence of 1997 and 2001.
Especially, she noted, the roles of the media and faith-based organisations. She herself pointed out that the 2006 media code of conduct and held it aloft as playing a significant role in terms of being able to facilitate peaceful elections in the country.
She said that the media as of 2010, had created a revised code of conduct For Reporting and Coverage of Guyana’s Local Government Elections (2010) and General and Regional Elections (2011).
According to Teixeira, one of the objectives of the committee that drafted the initial Bill was to get the media to self regulate themselves. She went on to say the fact that self regulation in the media if not in the Bill is of no consequence because the media on its own has developed a media code of conduct which she said, “we will hold them to as citizens of the country …”
By early 2010, with local elections fast approaching, it was felt that the code needed to be updated.
Negotiations between state and private media to agree a revised code in 2009 had proven fruitless, and GECOM turned again to the Commonwealth Secretariat and UNDP to work with the parties.
The revised code that currently exists came out of a set of meetings and workshops which were co-sponsored by the GPA and the Canadian High Commission (with funds from CIDA’s “Deployment for Democratic Development” program, and additional financial support from UNDP).
The new code covers election reporting in the immediate pre- and post- election periods, but also – in referring to the basic principles of democratic journalism – covers the similarly crucial ‘intra-election’ period between polls.
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