May 13, 2023 News
Guyana Press Association…
Kaieteur News- The Guyana Press Association (GPA) was formed in 1945 and is currently the second oldest media advocacy group in the English-speaking Caribbean. It has always been a membership body that campaigns on behalf of journalists and media workers in the country.
The body has four tiers of membership including journalists, editors, videographers and photographers. The GPA also has associate members such as persons involved in other aspects of the media platform inclusive of public relations, communications, technical support and corporate memberships (media houses). The latter is free to have representatives participate in trainings and meetings. Lastly, student membership is also catered for, to allow University of Guyana (UG) students studying Communication Studies to join the body. Notably, corporate, associate and student members are not empowered to vote but are free to participate in trainings and other activities and raise issues.
Nazima Raghubir, current President of the body has served in various capacities in the GPA since 2002. She is running for President again this year.
In an interview with this newspaper, she said, “The Press Association remains a very vocal organization. It held a number of awards, it had trainings and it is interesting to observe how the Press Association has evolved over the years.”
Achievements of the GPA
Since its establishment, the body has accomplished numerous goals through dedicated members and executives. The executives of the body are not paid but volunteer their services to better the environment for their colleagues.
The eight-member executive body includes the President, Vice President, Treasurer, Acting Treasurer and four floor members. The Secretary is selected from among the floor members.
Training for members of the press is always critical, especially since there is a high turnover in the profession. The GPA has facilitated several training sessions in the past and Raghubir pointed out this has always been a priority for past Presidents, such as veteran Journalist Adam Harris, Julia Johnson, Neil Marks and Gordon Moseley.
Some of the issues covered include migrants and migration, HIV/aids, interpersonal violence, elections, financial reporting, oil and gas and energy, gender sensitivity and trauma reporting.
Outside of training sessions, the GPA President said a guide was comprised on suicide reporting where members of the press were offered counseling as well.
Sport reporters too have benefitted from training under Raghubir’s tenure who said this was an objective for her since this group is also part of the press team. A passionate GPA head said sport reporters must in fact not be treated as “step children”.
Additionally, she pointed to the importance of technical media personnel such as videographers and photographers being able to participate in training to boost their skill set as well. Raghubir said that while this was pursued to some extent, it was not fully executed but she looks forward to working on this in her second term.
Importantly, the local press association has played a great role in advocating for the rights of its members. The President said most of this is not public knowledge as journalists have reached out, behind the scenes, for trauma assistance (for both personal and professional incidents), with complaints of abuse at the level of media houses, complaints by workers who felt sidelined because of their ethnicities and labour-related matters, bullying in and out of the workplace and on social media and numerous other social issues, like loss of jobs and loss of income which were all addressed over the years by her.
In other cases, she said legislative issues have been raised with the body, particularly those that affect press freedom and freedom of expression which the body has advocated for.
She said the GPA met with various executives at the government level, such as Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister, Kwame McCoy for consultation on critical issues. The GPA is also on a committee of the Ministry of Health and has liaised with government on plans and policies that can impact communication and the media.
Raghubir said that while the GPA is not a complaints authority for the media, it has received complaints against the media from the public, government officials, members of Parliament and have raised these directly with the media houses to iron out same.
On media and press advocacy, the GPA has been vocal on these matters and has been in communication with its members on every decision. “The government doesn’t have that mandate, the opposition, the Bar Association, the Medical Council and others but there are certain situations where we had to address those urgently and we have done so and not let anything to pass, especially when it comes to disrespect of our media workers,” Raghubir said, adding that she has no apologies for standing in defence of her colleagues. In fact, she said that even if she is not part of the body in future, she will speak out against this.
Importantly, the GPA and its members in the country have played a critical role in interfacing with the public to help resolve issues such as access to water, health care, better roads, services at the Passport Office and others. To this end, the press workers, not only in Guyana but across the world have become social workers, according to Raghubir who believes there is a role these workers play, simply owing to the fact that they are more accessible than the respective agencies.
The GPA has encountered many challenges over the years, under consecutive governments; these include access to information, and is not limited to the legislative process of commission of information, but the interface that is necessary between media and officials in the state, such as opposition parties and other actors.
Another challenge the Association faces is the current lack of an office. Since all the members of the Association are employed, efforts to secure the space have been stifled.
In the meantime, she said this is something she is committed to and would support any executive in pursuing. Raghubir said she side-stepped offers for an office space for the association in the past as she was cautious to avoid political or other linkages. “We went through some of the offers as an executive and politely declined them to ensure we are not in any way exposed to anyone or any organization,” she explained.
Mature members of the GPA have indicated in the past that a piece of land was donated to the body in Georgetown but the records were not pursued.
Another challenge or concern for the present Head of the body is financial sustainability and independence. Presently, membership dues are the main source of income for the GPA, which are not paid timely too. The work of the Association, especially trainings and awards, are largely sponsored by corporate and government entities. Raghubir said during her tenure, she pursued funding which was not politically tied to any individual or organization to maintain the independence of the body. In fact, she recalls that the body was quite successful in its bid.
The COVID-19 Pandemic had affected the press and its membership body too was hindered in some of its activities such as its awards and training sessions during the period.
Additionally, she said, “One of the things I think we really dropped the ball on is media literacy; we do trainings for our members and we do trainings for our media workers but we have been complacent when it comes to media literacy which I think is very important in this age of misinformation and disinformation.” To this end, the GPA President said during this year’s World Press Freedom Day event, the body hosted a panel discussion to kick off its media literacy campaign.
The Guyana Press Association will be hosting its biennial awards this year. The global pandemic had stymied the process, which was due in 2020.
Raghubir who was elected as President in 2018 is still the incumbent leader and was motivated by her colleagues to run again.
She said that she will be pursuing a re-election with the intent of reforming aspects of the Constitution and continue her defence of the local media. She said she does not believe in stating “unrealistic” goals but intend to continue her work in developing the media landscape in the country.
In an invited comment she noted, “Since there has been an indication that I am running for President there has been an increase in what I consider to be an indecent assault and attack that is almost criminal by different persons. There is a campaign of disinformation about the GPA, its rules and conventions for holding elections and it is interesting that the peddlers of misinformation are also involved in communication and can and should reach out to the Press Association for any clarity but have not done so.”
She said that she has not sought to respond to the cyber bullying and the language used to discredit her and the GPA.
Raghubir said on Sunday when the members meet to elect a President, the issues will be addressed as a civilized organization.
Also contesting the GPA election is former President of the body, Neil Marks who served from March 2015 to January 2018. He aims to defend free speech, promote transparent, accountable governance and foster an informed citizenry, among others.
Marks is also passionate about setting up a permanent Secretariat for the GPA and reintroducing a bigger media awards programme.
In an invited comment, the former President of the GPA explained that he decided to pursue Presidency as he strongly believes the body is in need of new leadership to deliver tangible benefits for its members.
He reasoned, “A term of the GPA executive is two years. This executive sat in office for five and a half years. The GPA Constitution allows for a President to run for office for three consecutive terms. So one can see that the current President and executive has been in office for almost all of the three consecutive terms if elections were held as the GPA constitution dictates.”
Further in pointing to the need for a change in leadership, Marks noted, “In their five and a half years, the GPA executive has not called a single general meeting to engage members on their needs. There was not a peep from them about reforming the Constitution to reflect the way news is gathered and disseminated today. There was no effort to set up a Secretariat to run the affairs of the GPA. There has been no financial report presented to members in those five and a half years. So really, I believe there is need for change.”
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