Sections of the media in Guyana like to hold themselves out as some paragon of virtue and professionalism. But this is far from so. Finding a truly professional outfit that is scrupulously objective and balanced is very hard within the local media fraternity.
The media in Guyana can play little role in reversing the divisions in our society or in softening the level of political polarization within our society. The media, unfortunately, reinforces these tendencies.
There are sections of the media in Guyana which are in the Opposition’s corner and there are sections that are within the Government’s camp. In between there are some media houses, such as the Kaieteur News, which is attempting to maintain some independence but they are fighting a losing battle in trying to change the overall media culture in Guyana.
In such an environment, it is hard to promote standards of professionalism. And this is not helped by at times the lackadaisical reporting by many media operatives. Take for example a recent story about the DPP ordering that charges be withdrawn against a man accused of killing a policeman.
The media houses were quick to report that the case had been thrown out in the Magistrates’ Court. But they have not done the necessary follow through as is done in other countries where there is a stronger tradition of investigative journalism. One would have expected that at the minimum, the journalists within the media fraternity would have probed deeper into this incident as their counterparts are doing in the United States and London in relation to recent horrific incidents of violence in those countries.
No one so far has sought a comment from the DPP as to the reasons why the charges were ordered to be dismissed. It must not be assumed that the police case was weak. This has to be confirmed by the DPP’s office.
The local journalists should have been asking probing questions. If the police have, as they claim, a confession statement, then what was the basis for the charges to be withdrawn? Was it that evidence emerged that the statement was obtained under duress? Or were the charges withdrawn because the police did not consider statements that confirmed the alibi of the accused.
If this was the reason why the charges were withdrawn, it means that there is a possibility that the charges can be re-imposed if after considering these statements, the police reject them. If they do reject them another interesting dimension arises. Would the police be willing to charge anyone who it feels is guilty of trying to pervert the course of justice?
These are just some of the questions that are still outstanding and which one would have expected our many media houses would have been actively pursuing. Instead many of them seem to be satisfied with the fact that the charges were thrown out and this effectively is the end of the matter.
It should not be the end of the matter. There are equally other aspects of this story to be considered. What about the torture allegations? Are these going to be investigated? The fact that the accused has been freed does not de-legitimize the need for an investigation into the accusation of torture. The media should therefore stay on top of this issue and stay on top of all the various aspects of it and not be selective in pursuing only those that may show the police in bad light.
There is an obligation to fairness and from the pursuit of this professional obligation is likely to emerge clearer facts.
We have a number of new radio stations in Guyana. With this proliferation, it was anticipated that certain issues would have been more extensively covered by these radio stations. Unfortunately, the content of many of these new radio stations has been extremely disappointing and one has to ask whether some of them were licensed to play only music and to entertain greetings.
You do not hear many public affairs programmes. There are not many investigative features. Listeners are not benefiting from the coverage of many controversial social and political issues. In fact, one would have anticipated that with so many new radio stations around that there would have been live coverage of the debates in parliament. The Guyanese public has to be thankful for Demerara Waves which has been trying to bring live internet coverage of the proceedings in the National Assembly.
Not only were radio licences distributed controversially but it seems as if they were distributed without any regulations governing compulsory broadcasting of educational and public affairs content.
So what was the real purpose of the liberalization? Was it to liberalize radio so that the Guyanese public can be bombarded with music and greetings all day long?
This is inexcusable. A national resource has been shared out and instead of more educational and informative programmes, you can, in the middle of the day, turn on to one particular radio channel and hear the announcer ask a caller, “You have a boyfriend?”
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