…says Press Association’s condemnation not justifiable
President David Granger has said that his government Minister dictating where articles should be placed in the state newspaper is not interference, but the Minister giving his opinion.
Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan recently came under fire for penning a letter to the Editor of the Guyana Chronicle, in which he attempted to dictate what the newspaper should have published as its lead or page one story. In that letter to the editor, published in the state newspaper on April 3, Bulkan condemned the newspaper for not giving enough prominence to the article on the swearing-in of Mayors and deputy Mayors.“Your front page is dominated by the headline: “More Oil” and was followed by a full-page story on page three. I wish to suggest that your emphasis and message are totally misplaced,” the minister penned in his missive.
Bulkan had also expressed concern that the article on Mayors was “relegated” to page eight, while the oil story was featured on page three. “I suggest, therefore, that your public duty would have been better served by switching the aforementioned articles,” Bulkan stated.
Asked to comment on this Minister’s actions, President Granger said he does not view it as interference in the work of the media, but as the minister giving his opinion on the matter, just as every citizen has a right to do. He also said the Guyana Press Association’s (GPA) condemnation of the Minister’s action is not justifiable.
The GPA had accused the minister of attempting to drive fear into operatives of the state media. “His missive, which appeared only in the Guyana Chronicle, can only be interpreted as an attempt to drive fear into the editors and reporters of that newspaper with the sole aim of securing censorship and self-censorship,” the GPA said in a statement.
The Press Association had also suggested that Minister Bulkan would do well to be accessible to the media and account for the Communities Ministry’s programmes and policies, rather than “resort to a cloak-and-dagger approach” to drive fear into the state media operatives in regard to his story preferences.
President Granger has long maintained that his government would not meddle in the affairs of the media. “The Government of Guyana is committed to the promotion of a high degree of media professionalism. The administration will not undermine the professionalism of state media workers by subjecting them to political direction or interference in their work,” the President said in April last at a workshop to train local journalists and other media practitioners.
But even his Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had come under fire for his attempts to influence the state media via reportedly scolding a journalist and insisting that his office review all headlines before publication.
Nagamootoo had reprimanded a reporter attached to the Guyana Chronicle for publishing in that newspaper an article which he thought was unfavourable to the Government. The offending article was published on August 25, 2015 under the headline “Govt blunders on Budget Estimates … violates laws assented to by President Granger”. Following that contentious front page headline, the Office of the Prime Minister had declared that it would be vetting all headlines before their publication.
The Prime Minister was, in 2016, also criticised by the US State Department over his 2015 attempt to suppress freedom of the press, particularly in the state media. “In August (2015), the Prime Minister issued a directive that all headlines in the state-owned print media be first scrutinised and approved by his office before they are published. The directive was a response to a headline criticising the Government. The Prime Minister also serves as Minister of Information,” the U.S. State Department’s report had noted.
The Guyana Press Association (GPA) had also noted with concern the reports of Nagamootoo’s interaction with the reporter attached to the Guyana Chronicle. According to the GPA, the incident can be viewed as a method of intimidation, which may have a dampening effect on press freedom.
The GPA has most recently condemned the continued role of the Director of Public Information, Imran Khan, as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Guyana National Newspapers Limited –- publishers of the Guyana Chronicle.
The Association also disclosed — with worry — that a senior Government Minister continues to dictate coverage of his office to the Editor-in-Chief, and often has stories sent for his approval once they have to do with his office or the People’s National Congress (PNC), the main party in the governing coalition.
Additionally, the GPA has condemned the weekly meetings of the Prime Minister with senior executives of the state media, noting that those meetings are being used as a tool to dictate the editorial content of the paper and silence or trivialise Opposition views.