Kaieteur News – It is apparent that there are two significant factors affecting press freedom in the country: the lack of objectivity by certain media outlets, particularly those in the State media, and the government’s limited transparency and accessibility.
One of the primary impediments to press freedom in Guyana is the lack of objectivity displayed by some media outlets, particularly the State media. The State media’s proclivity to side with the ruling party has undermined its journalistic integrity.
It was no different under the APNU+AFC. All that happened was that the State media switched sides and became the mouthpiece of the ruling Coalition.
The PPP/C elected in 2020 has returned to its old ways of having the State media almost totally blank the Opposition. All day and all night, the State media churns out pro-government pieces with hardly a criticism of the government. The State media in Guyana has been highly partisan and inclined towards the ruling government. This approach has reduced the role of the State media to being the exclusive spokesperson of the government. It should take the example of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
The BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), has long served as a commendable model for State media in other countries. Its success lies in its impartiality, objectivity and professional journalistic standards. Unlike State media outlets in some countries that act as puppets for the ruling government, the BBC operates independently and because of it editorial independence is a trusted source of information.
In Guyana, the State media has no such objectivity. But the lack of objectivity is not confined to the State media alone. The private media, has at times, and when addressing certain issues, been equally guilty of being blinkered in their reporting and commentaries. It is not unusual to find issues in which the private media demonstrate a one-sided and jaundiced approach to reporting. One such instance has been the rape allegation against a Minister of the government who has since stepped down.
Some have been known to report on issues without seeking to represent all sides of the story. This has contributed, in no small measure, to a polarized media landscape that further divides the nation along political lines.
The second critical factor affecting press freedom in Guyana is the lack of transparency and responsiveness on the part of the government. However, the government of Guyana has shunned transparency, had adopted an overtly hostile attitude to criticisms and has been selective and generally unresponsive to the private media’s request for specific information, particularly relating to the oil and gas sector. In fact, given recent outbursts by some government officials, the private media should feel threatened.
Both the Stabroek News and the Kaieteur News have fallen prey to the government’s hostile actions, facing unwarranted retaliation simply for taking critical stances on specific governmental matters. Their only “crime” has been their commitment to providing independent and critical coverage, challenging government actions when necessary. Regrettably, these media outlets have become the targets of adverse measures and unwarranted attacks, all in the name of suppressing dissenting voices.
Reports of government ministers being inaccessible to the media are deeply concerning. The government exercises a tight grip on reporting. Requests for information are often met with silence. Many instances, ministers do not take calls from reporters and are extremely evasive when they do. This newspaper has been virtually blacklisted by many Ministers of the PPP/C government.
One government official grants exclusive interviews selectively, looking for a soft landing rather than be exposed to rigorous scrutiny. Selectivity in the granting of interviews and information leaks undermine transparency and breeds suspicions that the government has something to hide.
When the PPP/C was first elected to office in 1992, an experiment was introduced in which the Ministry of Information hosted ministerial press conferences. This experiment did not last too long but during the time it did, it allowed the media greater access to question Ministers on their respective portfolios. This practice has all but disappeared.
The absence of press conferences hosted by government ministers is a notable concern. Very few ministers in the present government host such conferences.
If press freedom is going to exist in Guyana, then these two significant challenges must be addressed: the lack of objectivity in the media, particularly state media, and the government’s limited transparency and accessibility.
But that is not likely to happen anytime soon. The state of professional media standards is appalling. Some of the country’s senior reporters are beyond reform. Some of them are even more partisan than their political masters. And our governments – past and present – fear accountability and transparency more than COVID-19.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of this newspaper and its affiliates.)
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