May 03, 2013 News
– urges thorough probe
The Guyana Press Association (GPA) has urged for a thorough investigation and correction over what it described as the unfair and surreptitious distribution of radio frequencies by former President, Bharrat Jagdeo, and the National Frequency Management Unit.
The media body made the call as Guyana joins the rest of the world today in celebrating World Press Freedom Day, under the theme, “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in all Media”.
“We must see every commemoration of World Press Freedom Day as an opportunity to remind us of the need to protect and secure/safeguard that ultimate inalienable right not only of every journalist but every citizen, the right to freedom of expression,” the GPA said.
Regarding the issuance of 11 radio licences by Jagdeo days before he left office, GPA made it clear that it is very concerned about the “unfair and surreptitious distribution of radio frequencies by then President Bharrat Jagdeo and the National Frequency Management Unit”.
GPA said it is aware that the issuance is now subject to court challenges.
“We 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.”
The association, which represents journalists across the country, noted that Guyana’s Constitution does not explicitly recognize the Freedom of the Press.
“There is talk about Freedom of the Press in Guyana and concomitant responsibilities in that regard. Guyana needs 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.
Several of the 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.
There should be no crowding out of views in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-party society. The Press therefore must be vigilant that all views are expressed in a fair balanced and objective manner that redounds to the greater good of society.”
GPA urged journalists and media workers to be fair in their reporting and fearless in the pursuit of truth.
And the Alliance For Change (AFC), which controls seven seats in the National Assembly, in saluting media workers, said that “there is a pocket of brave media proprietors and journalists who refuse to be bullied or intimidated, and AFC says our nation owes you gratitude.”
The party says that it also is aware of the growing numbers of those who have been killed during deadly conflicts or kidnapped by terrorists in the line of duty, in some cases in reporting about the criminal enterprise and corruption in high places.
“This day in Guyana is marked with some degree of shame as the PPP minority government not only stifles open criticisms but exercises paramountcy over the state media. Opposition and dissenting voices are silenced by exclusion, not even when the situation would require a right of reply to unfounded, malicious and distorted statements from officials.”
AFC also pointed out that non-government press is routinely sanctioned and punished financially, with state advertisements being withheld.
“Many journalists are forced to practice self-censorship rather than incurring the wrath of the ruling elite. The shame is compounded by betrayal of the national interest when the PPP regime unlawfully gave away radio frequencies to friends, relatives and cronies of the regime.
When criticised, the President intemperately would tell the United States that they have worse examples of violation of human rights, rather than taking timely steps to democratise and re-open the media landscape in Guyana.”
The AFC called on government to rescind the licences immediately, open the state media to plural views and “stop its assault on the free press and the autonomy of the National Assembly.”
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU)’s High Representative, Catherine Ashton, recognized the importance of a free, independent and vibrant press in any democratic society.
“The EU is determined to fight for press freedom worldwide and condemns the increasing level of intimidation, violence and censorship that journalists face in many countries. The EU calls on all governments to allow journalists to work in safety and security, and without the fear of censorship or prosecution.”
The EU said that freedom of expression must be defended both in the traditional media and on the Internet.
“The EU will continue to promote freedom of expression on-line and offline, not least as new information technologies can be the key in promoting human rights and democracy. The EU will continue to condemn violations of the right to freedom of expression in all media with a view to ensuring that journalists across the world can discharge their professional duties without hindrance.”
World Press Freedom Day comes at a time when Guyana’s private media is battling government over what is being seen as the unlawful distribution of radio licences. Despite there being a freeze on new licences, Jagdeo in one of his last official acts, granted a number of radio and cable licences to his personal friends, his party and a public servant with close links to a government Minister.
Several independent media houses including Kaieteur News, Stabroek News, CNS Channel 6, Capitol News, HBTV Channel 9 and RBS Channel 13, among others, though they applied, did not in many cases receive any reply to their applications.
Government has since asked the media houses to submit new applications. They have defended Jagdeo but stopped short of explaining what criteria were used by the former President to grant those licences.
The disclosure of the details of the licences issued has sparked protests and attracted the condemnation of media bodies, local and international.
Court action has been taken and the media owners have shared their concerns with US government officials.
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. The day is to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence; and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
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