Jun 28, 2012 News
…foundation was laid for Guyana Times to benefit
…tax dollars not an entitlement for media houses – Glenn Lall
By Leonard Gildarie
The State’s use of tax dollars to advertise in media houses has come under heavy scrutiny, with calls now being made for the control of Government advertisements to be removed from the Office of the President.
During a lively debate, Tuesday, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Trinidad, media workers from around the world were split over whether media houses are entitled to Government ads or whether they should not be considered as a form of bribe.
Several media entities in Guyana, including Kaieteur News, Stabroek News and Demerara Waves, were in the twin-island Republic for International Press Institute (IPI)’s Annual Congress, a prestigious event that was held in the Caribbean over the weekend for the first time.
During a panel session on Tuesday under the theme, “Manipulating the Media: Government advertising as a Reward or Punishment for Media Outlets”, Publisher of Kaieteur News, Glenn Lall, insisted that advertisements from Government are not an entitlement to media houses.
He warned the journalists and editors gathered that newspapers and other media houses have to continue to find initiatives that would allow them to not have to depend on tax dollars and so raise questions over their independence.
On the panel were Anand Persaud, Editor-in-Chief, Stabroek News; Guyana-born, Clive Bacchus, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, Federation Media Group, St. Kitts and Nevis; and Eleanora Rabinovich, Director, Freedom of Expression Program, Association for Civil Rights, Argentina.
CNN International Anchor and Correspondent, Jim Clancy, was the moderator.
Lall said that following the government’s decision to pull state ads in late 2006, Kaieteur News in reassessing the situation, decided to raise its price from $60 to $80. Sales did not drop, but rather increased for Kaieteur News.
NO ADS FOR KN
Responding to statements by Stabroek News’s Editor-in-Chief, Anand Persaud, that Kaieteur News did not come in defence of that newspaper when government decided to pull their advertisements, Lall noted that his newspaper was published for years without state ads.
“When Kaieteur News was growing, we operated without government ads for a long time. Stabroek News had said not a word. Government eventually paid attention to the position of Kaieteur News as the leading daily, with greater circulation, and decided to place ads.”
According to Lall, former President Bharrat Jagdeo had listed as his reason for pulling ads that he wanted to ensure value for money for State funds.
The Head of State at the point had also said that daily circulation had played a significant role in the country’s decision where to place ads.
“I agree with that decision,” Lall said. “Our newspaper continues to centre its operations and stories on honesty, sincerity and integrity, and these are the factors that contributed to where our newspaper is at this time.”
Kaieteur News, as part of its duty to the public, has been carrying government ads for free, Lall said.
During the panel discussion on Tuesday, the Stabroek News, Editor-in-Chief also said that government’s decision to reinstate the ads in 2008 to privately-owned newspapers was a conspiracy to ensure that the Guyana Times, a new daily, could benefit from state ads.
Lall said he agreed with Persaud’s assessment of the situation – that it was a conspiracy by the Jagdeo-led administration. Government pays millions of dollars every year for the placement of its ads.
During his recount of the circumstances that led to Government withdrawing the ads, Persaud said that state advertising remained a real example of a major threat that governments hold over privately-owned media houses.
An example of this was in November 2006 when the Office of the President ceased placing Government ads, which included procurement notices, in that newspaper. Stabroek News immediately lost 15 per cent of its revenues.
Persaud opined that Jagdeo should have known as the Head of State, of the decision.
The coverage by the newspaper of a new political party, the Alliance For Change, may have been the reason, he said.
Persaud also said that the argument of low circulation by Jagdeo did not make sense and that Kaieteur News may have benefited because at the time it was “in cahoots” with government.
Some 17 months after the ads were withdrawn from the local newspaper, the daily newspapers suddenly began to receive them again without explanation.
Persaud said that it became clear why. The Guyana Times, a new daily, was started up in 2008 and just after a few months of existence started to receive government ads. This flew in the face of the reasons given by the Jagdeo Government and the fact that Stabroek News had been in existence for over 23 years, he noted.
Stabroek News then started a monthly survey which found that the Guyana Times shockingly was receiving as many government ads as the other established dailies.
The ads were stopped again and this time government in explaining, said that it decided to place them in the state-owned media houses and its “E-Procure’ website.
The ads were also being placed in a party-affiliated newspaper.
The fact that many persons were denied access to the government ads was against logic, Persaud argued.
According to CNN’s Jim Clancy, moderator of the discussion, Government advertising clearly has the potential of being a “silent killer of freedom of expression” as can be clear from the Guyana situation.
Persaud also disclosed that to keep its head above water, Stabroek News was forced to charge for its online news, raise its advertising rates, and raise the prices for the newspaper.
Privately-owned media houses are “entitled” to a portion of Government ads because of their wide reach to readers, he said. This is especially true to the procurement ads and public service ads, he added.
Asked about the possibilities of the courts handling the issues of the equitable placement of government ads, Persaud warned that a court case could backfire because of delays and the very real threat of the case becoming one of jurisprudence if the newspaper loses the matter.
He urged that the decision-making authority be taken out of the hands of the Office of the President and placed in those of an independent body.
PNC demanding answers for smuggled chicken early Sunday morning after church!
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