Having experienced discrimination in relation to the distribution of State advertisements since the assumption of the APNU/AFC coalition into office in 2015, the side-lining of Guyana Times by the State-owned Department of Public Information (DPI) has worsened with little, and as of recent, absolutely no ads being received.
Advertisements generated through DPI reached an all-time low by the end of October. In fact, in the month of September, the Guyana Times newspaper only received one ad from the DPI and none in October.
This issue of declining ads from the DPI, through which many of the State’s ads pass, was raised in a letter sent to the Director of DPI, Imran Khan. It was outlined in the October 23, 2019-dated correspondence that since an earlier letter in August 2019 regarding outstanding balances owed to Guyana Times, the number of ads that were once received from the DPI is no longer forthcoming.
“This is a cause of great concern for us, as comparatively, based on the information released by your agency, the Guyana Times newspaper received on average only 10 per cent of the State advertisements. That percentage reflects an already minuscule allocation to the Guyana Times newspaper,” the letter stated.
The correspondence further pointed out that after the first letter was sent in August, the publication only received a total of $20,930 in ads from the State agency in September. This, it was outlined, is against the backdrop of advertisements being proliferated consistently to the other dailies, especially to the State-owned Guyana Chronicle and Kaieteur News, during the same period.
The other daily newspaper, Stabroek News, has complained of similar reduction of ads from DPI, revealing on Friday that, it too, has not received any ads from the State agency in October – a move which the newspaper said earlier this month is an attempt to muzzle it for being outspoken against the coalition’s violation of the Constitution following the December 2018 passage of the No-Confidence Motion.
Stabroek News had previously disclosed that after advising DPI back in May that there will no new placements of ads until a substantial amount of its outstanding debt was settled, it observed a sharp decline in the number of State ads placed per column inches.
But in its letter just last week, Guyana Times pointed out that no such condition was put forward to the DPI, as it sought to ascertain the reason behind the reduction in the ad allocation.
“We, at this juncture, would like to make it clear that at no point did we refuse accepting advertisements from DPI, nor have we called for same to be ceased until the amounts owed to us have been cleared… Least we conclude that it is an attempt to “punish” us for the journalistic line we have taken, where we seek to not only carry the views and opinions of Government, but also the views and opinions of the Opposition, which can be deemed to be critical of the incumbent Administration,” the correspondence detailed.
Referencing the Inter-American press freedom Declaration of Chapultepec, the newspaper sought clarity on the lack of State ads from the DPI but there has been no response to date.
On the other hand, attempts by DPI to honour outstanding payments have since been incremental with Guyana Times, being informed only on Friday that a “part payment” will become available on Monday for monies owed eight months ago.
The Guyana Times newspaper was promised a payment of $900,000 from a total amount of $1,421,345.20 owed for the month of March 2019. However, DPI has racked up a total debt of $11,482,910.40 for the period of March 2019 to the end of September 2019.
Earlier in October, data issued by DPI showed that while the other three daily newspapers were getting the bulk of Government ads, Guyana Times was getting a portion of ads that was the least of the four.
According to the graphs, between January 1 and September 19, 2019, a total of $177,114,612 was paid by DPI for newspaper ads. Of that amount, Guyana Times only received a mere eight per cent ($13, 450, 099), while Kaieteur News got 37 per cent ($68,130,977), Stabroek News received 30 per cent ($51, 780, 354) and Guyana Chronicle 25 per cent (43, 753, 162).
Meanwhile, during the period of June 2015 to September 2019, the graph highlighted that Guyana Times only received 10 per cent ($72, 175, 528) of ads, while Stabroek News got 26 per cent ($196,121,278); Kaieteur News with 27 per cent ($207, 373, 258), and Guyana Chronicle received 37 per cent ($292, 488, 281).
This situation exists even as President David Granger, a former journalist himself, contended on Friday that all media houses should be treated equally and that there must be a fairness in the distribution of State ads.
“I do not support the withholding of advertisements. I have not investigated the matter but once the commercial dispute is settled [between Stabroek News and DPI], it will return to normal. Papers, media houses… they must all be given fair access to the advertisements of the State. It’s a State resource, it’s not a resource for one company… We have ensured that all of the media houses are treated equally because they prove the people with accurate information,” the Head of State said during a local radio programme.
Moreover, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo last month had also stated that all private media outfits should benefit equally from the State ads, despite their editorial position.
“I think all private media, regardless of where they stand, that they enjoy State [ads],” he stated.
Jagdeo, who himself was criticised for doing the same under his presidency, admitted that his approach was wrong at that time.
Based on his past decisions on this matter, the Opposition Leader noted that going forward, a People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administration will have a new approach in this regard.
“Looking forward, I think we must have, in the new Government, an arrangement where all the private media benefit from State assets. State ads must not be used in a punitive manner,” Jagdeo posited.