Kaieteur News – It is imprudent and rude for any public official – much less a Vice President – to suggest that the official has a right to determine to which media houses or persons the official should speak. No such right exists in democratic societies.
Ministers have an obligation to be accessible to the media. This not only means hosting frequent press conferences; it also implies the need to make information public and to do so in a manner which does not suggest selectivity.
One of the reasons why press conferences are usually held with the entire media corps is to avoid selectivity in the granting of interviews. But this has never stopped public officials from making disclosures through select media personnel, including ones to whom they are favourably disposed.
It is respectfully submitted that those who adopt the position that they have some earned right to determine to whom they should speak are doing so out of a profound ignorance of the obligations of press freedom.
Press freedom does not imply the right to speak to whomever one wishes. To accept this proposition would mean that public officials can justify speaking only, for example, to the state media or to those media operatives that are favourably predisposed towards uncritical acceptance of the official views.
By extension, officials would equally be inclined to feel that they are justified to exclude access to whom they consider are opposed to them or who are biased or prejudiced. Press freedom, however, does not operate through selectivity.
As was emphasised in the case of the Government of South Africa vs. Sunday Times newspapers, “It is the function of the press to ferret out corruption, dishonesty and graft wherever it may occur and to expose the perpetrators. The press must reveal dishonest mal- and inept administration. It must advance the communication between the governed and those who govern.”
Kaieteur News has been doing these things. Moreover, for doing so, it has attracted the ire of both the PPP/C and the APNU+AFC governments.
The Constitutional Court of South Africa once emphasised the importance of the mass media in providing citizens with a platform for the exchange of ideas. In a landmark decision, the Court argued that the manner in which the media does this has a significant impact on the development of a democratic society. The Court said, “If the media are scrupulous and reliable in the performance of their constitutional obligations, they will invigorate and strengthen our fledgling democracy. If they vacillate in the performance of their duties, the constitutional goals will be imperilled.”
Since the governed rely on the media for communication with and about those who govern, access by the media is absolutely imperative for a free press. In such a context, to suggest a right to speak to whomever one wishes, represents a denial of access to those who are not favoured. This holds true even when it can be established, beyond contradiction, that sections of the media are biased, unprofessional or have agendas which conflict with their professional obligations.
There is little doubt that there is gross unprofessionalism and lack of integrity within sections of the media fraternity. This, however, is not a recent phenomenon; it has always been the case.
Behind the lack of professionalism and integrity by sections of the local media was class warfare. Historically, the local middle and the petite bourgeois classes have used the media as a weapon against the PPP/C. In the process, some media houses and commentators lost all sense of fairness and balance.
But history has a funny way of turning out. Today, some of those who used the media to launch unrelenting and often unfair salvos against the PPP/C are today the darlings of the PPP/C.
The PPP/C prides itself as a defender and upholder of democracy. But this is mainly in terms of electoral democracy. When it comes to access to officialdom and transparency in government, the PPP/C’s record is to its discredit.
For the media, access to officialdom remains a problem, one that is made worse by the practice of some public officials granting exclusive and selective interviews to certain persons and media houses. The infrequent press conferences do not compensate for this shortcoming.
But far more dangerous is the recent shameless declaration by one public official that he has a right to decide who he speaks to. No such right exists in a free society.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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