One of the lame excuses that defenders of private media bias like to make is that this bias is a natural reaction to the state media partisanship. This is another way of saying that because the state media is imbalanced, this justifies the private media being equally lopsided.
For many years in Guyana, the private media and particularly certain talk-show hosts represented a real threat towards free expression because their views were often one-sided and partisan. Often also they engage in wild speculation, conjecture and sheer make-belief. There was one particular talk show host, now dead, who had a way of informing listeners that he had discovered something which he would tell them about later. This was enough to arouse great consternation in the public.
Over time, most of these talk-show hosts disappeared because in the end they exhausted their usefulness and eventually became liability to the political parties they supported.
Despite the disappearance of most of these rabble-rousers, the private media has never fully maintained its balance and this has led to a tempestuous relationship between sections of the private media and the government who felt that the private media was not being balanced.
Sections of the private media continue to harbour strong biases against the government. Recently, there was a discussion programme on one television station and all of the panelists were persons who cannot be said to be sympathetic to the government.
It may have been that no government representative accepted the offer to be on the programme but surely a greater effort could have been made to ensure a more balanced panel. The more one sees these things, the more one recognizes that the problems in the private media are just as serious as the biases in the state-owned media.
There are, for example, certain privately-run newscasts which many feel treat with a kids gloves allegations made against persons connected with the main opposition. But when it comes to allegations against persons in the government, it is a virtual campaign that is launched.
Then there are certain issues which are highlighted to project the government in a bad way while developmental stories are not given anywhere near the same attention.
Make no mistake about it, the private media has its biases and this is no secret and the private media, particularly sections of the electronic media, need to be exposed for what they are.
In a free society, the private media should be the torchbearers of press freedom but large sections of the private media are not. Some are biased in favor of the opposition and others are biased in favor of the government.
Instead of setting the standards for objectivity, certain private media practitioners have become to characterize its one-sidedness and the fact that the state media seems unwilling to become more balanced in its reporting should never be used as an excuse for its poor reporting standards.
The state media, however, need to change its ways. Recent reports indicate that even after the elections, the status quo remains the same.
The same old one-sidedness, the limited coverage afforded to opposition parties and the sheer partisanship of its reporting indicate that things have not changed very much since the elections of November 28, 2011.
But in as much as the state-owned media needs revamping, there are sections of the private media, particularly the electronic media, that are no less imbalanced in their reporting and content and this imbalance needs to be addressed if the private media is going to have a moral case for criticizing the state-owned media.
The main culprits within the private media are well known. Some of them are household names in Guyana. It may be asking too much to ask these individuals to change their stripes. They have been at their lopsided mission for too long; they are not likely to be able to change and therefore what is needed is for new faces to emerge, faces that would not become infected with the same biases as those established practitioners who seem unable to improve their professionalism.
In the meantime, the government should not use this as the basis for retaining the same status quo in relation to the state media. Steps should be taken to reform the state-owned media, to make it more credible and in so doing to expose those defective sections of the private media who are stuck in their old wicked and unchanging ways.
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