By Abena Rockcliffe
Members of Parliament on the government’s side were noticeably absent from yesterday’s parliament/media workshop. They chose to miss out an opportunity to address common concerns with the media.
The Office of the Speaker, through the National Assembly’s Public Relations Department, executed the workshop primarily for media practitioners. This was held at the Georgetown Club under the theme “Parliament, The Media and the People.”
The overall objective of the workshop was to promote an improved and productive relationship between Guyana’s Parliament and the media as a mean to promote citizens’ understanding of the work of and major components of Parliament.
It sought to address issues related to, and promote balanced coverage before, during and after Sittings.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds was scheduled to deliver remarks at the public opening session as were the Leader of the Opposition and Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman.
The absence of Government officials at even the opening ceremony didn’t go unnoticed. But Parliament’s Public Relations Officer, Onieka Alphonso-Walton, had indicated that the Prime Minster would have delivered his address later on in the day as he was “unavoidably tied up.”
Kaieteur News was further told that government’s Chief Whip Gail Teixeira had given all assurance that five Members of the House sitting on the government’s side would have attended the workshop.
But as the day progressed it became clear that the government just choose not to attend.
The Speaker said that he regards all Members of Parliament as honorable men and women. He added that there must have been a reasonable explanation for the government’s absence.
Last evening, Teixeira told Kaieteur News that she never gave assurance that Government officials would have attended. Teixeira confirmed that her colleagues were indeed invited and noted that government was not opposed to the initiative. However, she held out that she made no commitment to attend.
Asked specifically if there was any reason that prevented Government’s presence, Teixeira’s response was that “under the prevailing conditions the government didn’t see it as necessary, but I am happy Kaieteur News missed us.”
The opposition took full advantage of the opportunity to interact on different levels with the media.
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) had numerous members in attendance. Africo Selman, Dr. Karen Cummings and Annette Ferguson were just three of those members.
The Alliance For Change (AFC) also attended. At least three members were present during different intervals of the workshop.
AFC’s Cathy Hughes delivered a presentation on “Problems Parliamentarians face – media coverage and issues surrounding their own mandate, responsibility to press and public.”
During this session, Hughes spoke of hostile treatment meted out to herself and the late Deborah Backer by a particular female Member of Parliament sitting on the government’s side. That reference indicated that Government finds it hard to work with the opposition even on the simplest of matters.
She, both in her political capacity and that of a former journalist, touched on how media practitioners should conduct themselves.
She said that reporters should try at all times to produce fair and accurate stories. Hughes added that the public loses out when the full story is not reported
Hughes took a swipe at the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) and said that all citizens are stakeholders of this entity hence should be allowed balanced information. Unfortunately, this is forbidden at NCN.
She noted that Guyanese have a right to hear from government and opposition as well as other Non-Governmental Organizations that may want to get their message out there.
Hughes said that it all comes down to professional ethics and strength of character of journalists and those who control media houses.
Other contributions were made by former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran; Director of Communications Department, University of Guyana, Carolyn Walcott; Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, Hermina Gilgeous and Allan Fenty.
Ramkarran spoke about previous relationships between the media and the National Assembly.
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