– veteran journalist weighs in
Veteran journalist Bert Wilkinson believes that Government should appoint a Board of Directors to work along with editors at the State-owned Chronicle, to fix polices that the newspaper has been lacking for far too long.
Wilkinson, an international correspondent, was among several notable journalists who responded to a Kaieteur News query on the extent of control that the Government of the day should have on the State-owned entity.
The previous Opposition had condemned the tight grip that the PPP/C had on the State media, particularly during the recent General and Regional Elections, when only positive views of the Government were published, while the Opposition was portrayed in a negative light.
Concerns that this state of affairs is continuing under the new government arose after Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo allegedly expressed disappointment to a Chronicle reporter over a story about what transpired in the National Assembly.
The headline of the story was “Gov’t blunders on Budget Estimates…violates laws assented to by President Granger and was published on Tuesday, August 25.
Sections of the media then reported that as a result of the publication of that article, editors at the Chronicle were ordered to have all headlines vetted by Director of Public Information, Imran Khan before publication.
But Khan has refuted the reports, while Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo also debunked this report in a Facebook post.
An editorial in the Chronicle subsequently stated that “ a State newspaper, like all other newspapers, has vested interests, politically and ideologically. Ours arise from the government’s thrust; there is no running away from that.”
The editorial also stated that The Chronicle, “is owned by the State, and is, therefore, expected to editorially support the general thrust of the government of the day.”
Wilkinson agrees that the state-owned newspaper should be one that gives the government a chance to highlight all its programmes.
“But the government should not abuse its privileges… the paper should be allowed to have other content and be credible enough to be purchased.”
Kaieteur News Editor-In Chief, Adam Harris who served in that same position for several years at the Chronicle said that the paper “can” indeed “support” the general thrust of the State as reflected in the Editorial. But lending support should not be the mandate of the newspaper or at least not the only mandate, Harris contends.
“A State newspaper or State media generally should also offer criticism when it is deserved. If it is found that the government is working against the interest of the State then the State media has a right to, and should most definitely address this; as at the end of the day it is State media not government media.”
Harris pointed out that BBC is “state owned but not pro government.” Like Burt Wilkinson, he also advocated for the speedy appointment of a Board of Directors for the Chronicle.
Fredrick Kissoon, columnist at Kaieteur News said that he holistically disagrees with what the editorial describes the role of the newspaper to be. He stated that a State institution is administrated by a government on behalf of the people.
“It just cannot, it simply cannot extrapolate itself and become an actor in its own right. It is a servant of the citizenry. This means that it must, at all times, serve the people. The State doesn’t have its own interest; it looks after the interest of the people.”
Kissoon alluded to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) saying that “it is not an entity onto itself it is a servant to society; I would think that the State media should be no different.”
Weighing in on the issue, Kaieteur News publisher Glenn Lall said that State media across the world have always been seen as a mouthpiece of the government of the day.
“Of course there are a few across the world that are left to run on its own, like the BBC, but from time to time you will notice a slant towards the bosses of the day.
The newspaper publisher said that it is somewhat of an expected norm in third world countries for this to happen and that is why it is imperative to have private media houses. “You would often see private media houses prospering and usurping the lead role in the media fraternity.”
Most of the time, Lall said, Private media houses do not have an axe to grind and do not take a political stance. “All they wish to see is a better nation.”
Like his colleagues, Dennis Chabrol, Editor in Chief and owner of Demerarawaves.com, said that the State media is owned by State and not the government “and therefore ought to reflect the views of all segments of society. The news should not be tailored to suit the party in power or the government of the day.”
Kissoon, Wilkinson, Harris and Chabrol all agreed that in principle there is nothing wrong with a government having an opinion and airing it in the State-owned news paper. They also said that they will look to see if the same privilege is extended to others with opposing views.
Harris pointed out that “Freddy, (Kissoon) from time to time, writes about things that we at KN might not agree with, but he is allowed to express his opinion. It is the same thing.”
However, Chabrol said that when all is taken into consideration including the Prime Minister’s recent action; it amounts to a creeping misuse of the newspaper. Chabrol said that he fears a repeat of a “vicious cycle” of what occurred under the PNCR and the PPP/C “when these governments misused the media for its own interest.”
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