Govt to actively pursue & support measures that guarantee access to information across all media platforms – McCoy 

0

World Press Freedom Day Message by Kwame McCoy-MP, Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Public Affairs

Today marks a watershed moment across the world, as we observe and celebrate 30 years since democracies united behind the common imperative, of ensuring that nations make provisions for the free and unfettered operations of the press.

World Press Freedom Day, proclaimed by the United Nations General assembly three decades ago, serves each year as a reminder to governments of their commitment. It was also positioned as a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.

The United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization-UNESCO has indicated that this year’s theme, “Information as a Public Good” was designed to serve as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind.

Today, countries who are signatories of the ‘Windhoek declaration’ that commenced the observance, will be focusing discussions around issues concerning the economic viability of news media; mechanisms to ensure transparency of internet companies; and enhanced media and information literacy capabilities that enable people to recognize and value, as well as defend and demand professional journalism, as a vital part of information as a public good.

His Excellency Dr. Mohammed Irfaan Ali has committed to fulfilling our party’s manifesto promise of strengthening media freedoms and expanding its reach in his first term of office, to ensure that all Guyanese, regardless of their geographic location, will have access to information.

In fact, it was the PPP/Civic government that created the first ever constitutional office of ‘Commissioner of Information’ which allowed for free public access to all state information. This office was dismantled by the Granger led Coalition government in its first few months, a travesty which President Ali is committed to reversing and restoring shortly.

Today, as the government introspects on its policies and positions of press freedom, rest assured that our principles and commitment will remain steadfast even as we expect that the Guyanese media fraternity to do likewise and recommit to raising the bar of professionalism and ethics with due regard to the ‘public good’ that information should serve.

Since returning to office late last year, the PPP/C government has already taken an impressive menu of measures to demonstrate our commitment…

With due regard to our affirmations and commitments to ‘press freedoms’ under the various United Nations resolutions, His Excellency President Ali has included a Ministerial portfolio for Public Affairs within the Cabinet, with functional scope and authority within the Office of the Prime Minister… the portfolio which I currently hold.

The portfolio Minister and indeed no less than the Office of the Prime Minister, are charged with all aspects of information generation and dissemination across all media platforms, including online; to enable, encourage, facilitate, safeguard and protect its free flow without exception; and to collaborate across all sectors to build capacity, increase and expand skills and knowledge; and all aspects of Telecommunication, including the strengthening and expansion of national infrastructure and supporting mechanisms, and including the liberalization of the industry, national frequencies and attendant platforms…

A mere two months since taking office, The Office of the Prime Minister formally announced the total and complete liberalization of the Telecommunication Sector, effectively ending decades of commercial monopoly. You would recall, I’m sure, our freeing up of the broadcast airwaves prior to 2015… you can expect that policy to continue now and well into the future…

A return to the national One Laptop Per Family programme which previously catered to ninety thousand families prior to 2015 when the PPP/C held office, has been included in the first substantial national budget of the government, passed in the National Assembly this March. This programme is aimed at building a knowledge-based society through household expansion of access to information in all its forms. Not only are the instruments provided to low-income and vulnerable families, but requisite training and internet access through community ICT Hubs are facilitated under this programme…

Training of new journalists and broadcasters, including women, for absorption across both the public and private media spectrums will be undertaken. Capacity building through industry training and international scholarships, including for online work, are being facilitated for direct benefit to members of Guyanese media fraternity and indeed all Guyanese. These awards form part of a five-year programme that will facilitate twenty thousand scholarships across a wide array of academic and skill-based disciplines…

A Broadcast Academy will be established, to facilitate world class industry professional training and exposure for current and new broadcasters…

The government is facilitating full access to the free press on a regular basis on State matters and those related to the COVID 19 Pandemic and has already taken steps to strengthen relations and build capacity with the Guyana Press Association…

The Government maintains cordial relations with press corps. In late February, The President hosted the annual Media Brunch. In his address, President Ali told the nation’s journalists, he believes “that in a free and open society, every view has a value and every view must be expressed freely, but in expressing those views there comes responsibility also” …

Directors of Public Affairs and of Digital Infrastructure and Online Engagement have been appointed. The latter is mandated to create a national platform for open access to government content and information by the public and the press.

As a nation committed to a free press and a signatory to the declarations of Chapultepec and Windhoek, the Government of Guyana remains therefore unequivocally committed to upholding the constitutional rights of its citizens to freedom of information as a public good, and will continue to actively pursue, develop, consider and support reasonable measures that protect and guarantee access to, or the dissemination of information in all forms and across all media platforms.

I therefore take this opportunity to salute all professional media workers in good standing, particularly the veterans and stalwarts with 30 years and over of diligent, exemplary experience in using information as a public good.

Again, congratulations and best wishes on behalf of President Ali and my cabinet colleagues, and indeed, on behalf of all Guyana.