May 04, 2021 News
By Sueann Wickham
Kaieteur News – President of the Guyana Press Association (GPA), Nazima Raghubir, who was recently named President of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), has stated that public officials have been using the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to avoid media scrutiny.
Speaking to Kaieteur News on Sunday, she revealed that at the ACM’s bi-annual meeting, which was held on Saturday, it was highlighted that there is a lack of access to public officials by the media. She also noted that it is an issue journalists are facing in several territories since many organisations in their respective country report have lamented that the pandemic is being used by these officials to reduce their interaction with the press. This, she said, is of concern to the ACM.
“Officials have been using the pandemic to limit the type of interactions to answer the sort of questions and do the types of interactions that are needed with the media. In Guyana, it is well known that the President had not held a press conference for many months and we had spoken to him on the sidelines of events. He eventually held one last week,” she said.
Notably, in January at the annual Presidential Media Brunch, the GPA President had called for the return of post-Cabinet briefings. She had said that such meetings provide the country with necessary updates on internal affairs and in acknowledgement of her call, His Excellency, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, had explained that the government has been “very busy” but committed to resuming the briefings and to having more engagements with the local press.
Raghubir, who is also a veteran journalist, noted that despite Ali’s commitment, the briefings have still not returned. She noted too that the last press conference, the Vice President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, would have conducted was since earlier this year. A lack of frequent engagements, she said, would hamper the type of questions that the media need to ask and access to these officials to clarify issues of national interest.
Just last month, former Ethnic Relations Commissioner, Pandit Deodat Persaud, had noted that public officials should not hide from the media but instead facilitate their scrutiny. He asserted that when a person becomes a public official, he or she should welcome interrogation from members of the media since they serve as a layer of accountability in public administration and the information they disseminate also bolsters that accountability.
Persaud was keen to note that there are many instances where media personnel may attempt to solicit comments from public officials, both in government and opposition but they are often stymied in these efforts. Making the case that their engagements with the media may foster opportunities for clarification, he had highlighted that such clarification cannot be established if public officials are silent.
According to Raghubir, even though these public officials are capitalising on the pandemic to avoid scrutiny, she is encouraging journalists to not let it hamper their accessibility. She said that “accessibility is what you make it,” stressing that media workers should not wait for a special press conference from their leaders but should instead corner them on the sidelines of events to get the answers they desire.
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