May 03, 2013 News
By Latoya Giles
As Guyana joins the world in celebrating World Press Freedom Day today, United States Ambassador to Guyana D. Brent Hardt said that while new radio broadcasting licences are welcome, the process by which such licences are issued must be fair and transparent.
The envoy made those comments last evening at a reception that he hosted in honour of the event.
“Last year, I welcomed the decision by the Government to free the radio airwaves and end the model of limited, state-influenced radio. Radio is such an integral part of the public square throughout the Caribbean, and opening up that square in Guyana as it is in other Caribbean countries will do much to generate a more inclusive, participatory public dialogue on issues of the day for the people of Guyana. While new radio broadcasting licences are welcome, the process by which such licences are issued must be fair and transparent.
Guyana created a reasonable foundation for such a process through its 2011 Broadcasting Legislation, which paved the way for the creation of a National Broadcast Authority. It is now time for the Authority to do its work — to promptly review and approve qualified applicants, including many long established media houses whose applications in various forms have been pending since the late 1990’s.”
The ambassador noted that such progress will contribute to what was recognized in their recent Human Rights Report is an environment that broadly provides for freedom of expression and in which the government generally respects this right in practice. He noted that the report highlighted continuing restrictions on radio broadcasting and the Government’s continued exercise of control over the content of the National Communications Network (NCN) television station, which gives government spokespersons extended coverage, while limiting participation of opposition figures.According to Ambassador Hardt as was observed last year, he has been very impressed by the quality and scope of the media output in Guyana, with four daily newspapers, and array of television stations, and, hopefully, soon, a broader range of independent radio stations.
The theme for this year’s global World Press Freedom celebration is: Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media. This theme seeks to cast a spotlight on the safety of journalists, to combat impunity for crimes against freedom of expression, and to secure a free and open Internet as the precondition for safety online.
It was further stated by the ambassador that the United States greatly values freedom of the press as a key component of democratic governance. “Democratic societies, including our own, are not infallible, but they are accountable to their citizens. “While we may be imperfect, we have no shortage of media houses of all viewpoints to call attention to those imperfections and to demand better.”
“The Constitution makes clear that our goal as a nation is not perfection, but of striving toward “a more perfect union. That is precisely why the free exchange of ideas is the foundation of accountable governance.”
Hardt said that in the United States, Guyana, and countries around the world, the press fosters active debate, provides investigative reporting, and serves as a forum to express different points of view, particularly on behalf of those who are marginalized in society.
Further, the ambassador noted that the United States also saluted the courage of journalists worldwide who do their work often at great risk and often with minimal rewards.
“Journalists are often the first to uncover corruption, to report from the front lines of conflict zones, and to highlight missteps by governments. As a result, the media is often a target of retaliation and criticism by those who feel threatened by freedom of expression and transparency in democratic processes. Sometimes force, such as physical intimidation, is not even necessary to silence freedom of expression.
Legal mechanisms such as criminal libel laws can also be misused to intimidate, as journalists risk being sent to prison simply for doing their job of investigating and reporting on matters of public interest.”
He further stated that the United States supports the recent initiative by the International Press Institute (IPI) to encourage countries throughout the Caribbean region to repeal such laws, and “we welcome the positive signals provided by both the Government and opposition in Guyana to do so. Beyond criminal libel, even civil libel cases can generate legal fees that can often bankrupt individuals being sued. All of this reinforces why governments and citizens worldwide come together on this day to speak out for the protection of journalists and to acknowledge their vital role in open societies.”
Similarly, in its 2013 Press Freedom Index, Hardt said that Reporters without Borders has rated Guyana as 69th worldwide out of 179 countries. It was noted that there was “a satisfactory record in fundamental freedoms” in which “press concerns are chiefly focused on relations with the government” and the continuing state monopoly on radio. And in just released Freedom House rankings covering 2013, Guyana was classified as “partly free” with a ranking of 68th of 192 countries worldwide. Within the Caribbean region, all countries earned a classification of “free” except Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda, and Haiti.
Moreover the ambassador noted that Guyana recently benefitted from a visit by the Vienna-based IPI, which had a chance to meet with a broad range of local government and media stakeholders.
In attendance last evening was President of the Guyana Press Association Gordon Moseley, who told the gathering that so much has changed over the last 20 years, when the world began observing World Press Freedom Day. He said that the media landscape and the way the media works and disseminates information and the news have changed.
“Notepads have been replaced by iPads, the research department has fallen prey to Google and sources are suddenly on Facebook…and when news breaks, it breaks on Twitter and BlackBerries, and smartphones have taken the place of recorders.”
Moseley noted that the world has changed, technology has changed and the media has been changing with it, but the issue of freedom of the press in all of these changes remains an important one.
“The theme as we commemorate World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) is “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in all Media, but what does one have to secure as we mark the day?”
Moseley said that we must see every commemoration of WPFD as an opportunity to remind us of the need to protect and secure/safeguard that ultimate right, not only of every journalist but every citizen. That is the right to freedom of expression.”
In Guyana, he noted, this is not explicitly stated in a Constitutional clause that recognizes the Freedom of the Press. Moseley said that there is a lot of talk about Freedom of the Press in Guyana, however, and concomitant responsibilities in that regard. He noted that Guyanese need to be reminded that our constitutional right to Freedom of Expression is limited by several pronouncements under the same clause that gives us that right.
He said several of these limitations are not clearly defined and as a result, public order, even public health for example may be vicariously used to limit expression. Even technical limitations with regard to the electronic media can be used to hamper the free flow of ideas.
Moseley further noted that the Guyana Press Association has made its concerns very clear about the unfair and surreptitious distribution of radio frequencies by then President Bharrat Jagdeo and the National Frequency Management Unit.
He said that they are aware that these actions are now subject to court challenges and would hope that good sense, justice and fair play will prevail and issues surrounding these assignments would be thoroughly investigated and corrected under the terms and conditions that created the moratorium and within the Constitution and Laws of Guyana.
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