One the ironies of the recent cuts on the state-owned television, radio and government information service was that it took place at a time when the very opposition which had for years been complaining about the partisanship of the state media, were actually benefiting from unprecedented coverage.
During the Budget debate, it was strange to hear opposition politicians complaining about the coverage they were receiving on NCN. GINA, the government news agency produces a Budget Roundup, which recaps highlights of the various presentations by parliamentarians. Contrary to what was being claimed and what is now being so mischievously pedaled overseas, this Budget Roundup was not one-sided. Both the government and the opposition sides of the House were covered and the coverage was balanced.
It is not clear just how many parliamentarians actually listen to the radio but if the opposition parliamentarians did they would have known that for the first time ever in the history of this country, the Budget debates were brought live on radio and the presentations of the opposition parliamentarians were carried in full.
The people of Guyana heard not just the government side but also the opposition side. This was an important departure from what existed before November 28 and reflects the changes, incremental as they have been, that have taken place under the Donald Ramotar administration.
The President probably did not want to be seen as trying to embarrass his predecessor by announcing his intentions as regards the state media. But those intentions have been taking place.
Mr. Granger, the Leader of the Opposition, was actually interviewed on a newscast and the news reports of NCN have been far more balanced that they ever were.
The problem may be that the opposition politicians may have been so turned off by the past conduct of the state-media under the Jagdeo presidency that they are not aware of the changes that have taken place and are taking place as regards to the institution.
Certain members of the Alliance for Change also appeared on a television show hosted by NCN and they were condemned by persons in their own party for making use of this opportunity, something that would not have been afforded them under the Jagdeo administration.
The Kaieteur News also got a surprise when one day it began to receive ads from a state corporation which previously had pulled its ads. And the Stabroek News also received these ads. So there has been some positive movement there as well.
The newscasts of NCN are definitely are far less one-sided and not as nauseating as they used to be under the Jagdeo administration. And as mentioned before, the opposition parties received their fair share of coverage during the Budget debates. Perhaps they were not aware of the live radio coverage and formed their opinions based on the Budget Roundup television programme which is a recap production that only features highlights. But it is a fact that the debates were brought live on radio and this is a landmark development.
Instead of offering some carrots to the NCN and GINA for the work they have done and for the changes that are being initiated since November 28, the opposition, no doubt unaware of these changes, sought to cut the subventions from these agencies.
The argument in the case of NCN was that most of its operations are funded from its commercial proceeds. This is true but also quite a lot of valuable programs that are brought are not of interest to advertisers and therefore these programs are not going to be sponsored.
There are programs that provide a service to the country and to groups within the country which will suffer if they have to be commercialized. The educational channel is going to suffer from the cuts as will be community radio.
The opposition parties should also know that the coverage of certain major sporting events do not come cheap and commercials cannot cover these costs always. In the past, the government has had to intervene to help NCN offset the shortfall between what the advertisers pay and what the rights cost. And they will recall, especially when rights had to be acquired from CMC, how prohibitive was the price tag for those rights. Without a subvention, NCN will not be able to bring all those major sporting events that the small man looks forward to each month.
When it was first intimated that cuts were imminent, NCN in protest went off the air on most of its transmissions. There were letter writers who suggested that Linden was deliberately targeted in this process. However this is not so because once the FM stations went off the air, radio listeners all over the Coast suffered.
In fact, if you wanted to listen to the cricket on that day, you had to use the 560 AM band which is not strong in many parts of the country.
The AFC, smarting from criticisms about the cuts, is now trying to inject a reason which it did not advance before. In relation to GINA, it is saying that many of the Ministries have set aside monies for Public Relations and therefore they should use these monies for the work of GINA. The AFC is being disingenuous and is misguided on this point.
The AFC has within its ranks, Public Relations experts who can advise the party that Public Relations is not just about political propaganda.
In the case of government, Public Relations can involve disseminating policy and political aspects of its work. This is called political propaganda. This function cannot be left to independent, stand-alone Public Relations units in Ministries. There is need for a centralization of work relating to highlighting the political and policy aspects of government and this is achieved all over the world through government information agencies.
What the Public Relations units within Ministries address are issues relating to the public, including personal complaints. So, for example, if a member of the public has a problem with a government service, the Public Relations Unit can be called in to deal with this problem and if it is a social problem, then it has to address the social ramifications.
There may also be a need for the particular Ministry to undertake an outreach activity to promote some initiative. This is where the Public Relations Unit comes in because building good relations with the public and addressing their complaints are the specific functions of these units. However, when it comes to propaganda work about government policies and politics, this is the work of government information services.
Every government is entitled to these units. The PNC governments had their own, and relative to the available resources at the time, the PNC information agencies were well-funded.
We live in a modern world and governments have to get their message out, not just for domestic consumption, but also for persons, including investors, who would wish to receive information about Guyana from an official source.
The value of the work of GINA must therefore not be seen solely in terms of disseminating propaganda but also in so doing, providing an official service to persons interested in Guyana.
If the opposition parties are blind to the changes taking place, and are oblivious to the need for government information services to support the work of the state media, the opposition is the problem.
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