If the saying is true that any modern democracy places great emphasis on an independent media, then it is time for this government to privatize the state-owned media. The tens of millions of dollars which the government pumps into the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) and Guyana Chronicle, provide irrefutable evidence that the time has come to divest these entities. Unlike the Chronicle, NCN has a broadcast monopoly and therefore, it should be profitable, but it is not. Its survival depends on government subventions.
In a small economy such as Guyana’s, it is bordering on lunacy that taxpayers’ limited dollars should be thrown into the bottomless wells of both NCN and the Chronicle. It shows that both entities from time immemorial have been financially mismanaged.
When in opposition, both the PPP and the APNU+AFC coalition parties have persistently stated that they would privatize both media entities. Understandably, the PPP was in office for 23 years and instead of privatizing NCN and the Chronicle, it used them to its advantage to spread propaganda. Now in power for almost three years, this government has followed in the footsteps of its predecessor. By doing so, it has missed a golden opportunity to save the taxpayers millions of dollars.
The role of the state is to regulate the media in Guyana as opposed to be the ownership of it. The government has to do a better job than its predecessor in providing the best regulatory environment so that television and radio licences could be granted on a fair basis to various entities. This is spot-on good advice to the coalition government, which while in opposition had promised to privatize NCN and the Chronicle, but now in office, it is singing a completely different tune.
But if anyone thinks that this government would ever privatize those entities, then they had better think again, because it is not going to happen. As one senior public official put it: “Let the word go forth, the coalition government will not privatize the state-owned media, and there shall be no debate over that.” In essence, they have neutered any politicking or contrary opinion from the Opposition PPP which did the same when in power.
Between 1995 and 2005, it was revealed that NCN and the Guyana Chronicle accumulated debt that had quadrupled. In the last three years, both entities had needed more than $350 million in taxpayers’ dollars for their operations and they are no closer to emerging from their eternal deficits. Not only does NCN have a broadcast monopoly, but its huge operational costs show that it also has a monopoly on financial mismanagement.
It was publicly revealed that the PPP had owed NCN millions of dollars for advertisements from the last election campaign, which is a clear indication of the ineffectiveness of those responsible for its financial management. It also demonstrated just how the network was viewed and used by political entities and those in power.
Those in power have always cherished the idea of having a state-owned television station to defend the status quo and promote the policies of the government. However, the time is ripe for the government to privatize both state enterprises in the interests of taxpayers, and especially in the interest of both media outlets. We are no longer living in the 1960s, which was the golden age of state-owned media enterprises. Today, that is no longer the case. That said, it seems that the government is content to pump the taxpayers’ money into NCN and the Guyana Chronicle for the simple reason of having both media outlets to do the bidding of the administration. It is inappropriate and a waste of public funds.
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