GPA condemns Bulkan’s “attempt to drive fear” in State media

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The Guyana Press Association today condemned the Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan’s move to criticise the judgment of the Guyana Chronicle’s editorial team, who, according to him,  gave more importance to oil findings than the swearing-in of mayors and deputy mayors in the State’s newspaper dated March 31, 2017.

“The Guyana Press Association (GPA) is startled by the bold move of Ronald Bulkan, the Minister of Communities, to pen a public letter (published on April 3rd, 2017) upbraiding the Editorial team of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle; in his letter, he even attempted to dictate the editorial direction of the newspaper!” a statement released by the association said.

The GPA further explained their interpretation of the Minister’s action as an “attempt to drive fear into the editors and reporters of that newspaper with the sole aim of securing censorship and self-censorship,” while highlighting that it bore similarities to the behavior of the previous administration which was so lambasted by the coalition government.

On April 2, 2017, a letter was sent to the  Chronicle from Minister Bulkan who stated that “in your issue of 2017.03.31, you reported on the above activity [swearing in], but relegated it to page eight. Your front page is dominated by the headline: “More Oil” and was followed by a full-page story on page three.”

In the epistle, he went on to interpret that the placement of stories served as a “subliminal message” to indicate that “oil will be our saviour, solve our woes, take us to the promised land and such like.”

Bulkan further indicated to the editorial team that their “public duty would have been better served by switching the aforementioned articles.”

Below is the full statement issued by the Guyana Press Association:

The Guyana Press Association (GPA) is startled by the bold move of Ronald Bulkan, the Minister of Communities, to pen a public letter (published on April 3rd, 2017) upbraiding the Editorial team of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle; in his letter, he even attempted to dictate the editorial direction of the newspaper!

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.

This posture by the Minister clearly smacks of a past government that the coalition parties, separately and collectively, had criticised for seeking to dictate and control the editorial content of the state media.

The Minister’s stance runs counter to the exceptionally excellent effort by the newspaper in imbuing in the editorial staff, through its recently concluded training programme, the rudiments of the craft of journalism.

Mr. Bulkan would do well to be accessible to the media and account for his Ministry’s various programmes and policies rather than resort to cloak and dagger approach to driving fear in state media operatives about his preference for one story over the other.

Sadly, Minister Bulkan’s reprimand continues the deeply worrying direction of the Chronicle newspapers by the executive.

We wish to place on record our strong disagreement with the continued role of the Director of Public Information as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Guyana National Newspapers Limited, publishers of the Guyana Chronicle. This sends an unmistakable signal of the executive government controlling the work of the Chronicle.

Further, 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 it has to do with his office or the PNC, the main party in the governing coalition.

In addition, the GPA is aware that the weekly meetings of the Prime Minister with senior executives of the state media continues to be used as a tool to dictate editorial content and to silence or trivialise opposition views.

These actions run counter and, in fact, are in direct opposition to President David Granger’s repeated assertions that his government will allow state newspaper, TV and radio to function as independent entities.

We call on President Granger to ensure that the Prime Minister and the rest of his Cabinet understand his stated policy on the state media and to urge them to let their actions be guided accordingly.

The Guyana Press Association will be transmitting this statement to the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, international press freedom body Reporters Without Borders, and other international bodies as part of a dossier of instances of the deteriorating state media climate in Guyana.

The Guyana Press Association further urges the Board of Directors of state-owned TV, radio and newspaper to represent the editorial staff of the Guyana Chronicle against centrally directed dictatorship in the editorial content of their entities.

The GPA also urges all media workers to continue to carry out their work in a professional and ethical manner and to uphold the virtues of this most important profession.

The GPA is continuing its numerous efforts to develop the media in Guyana and regularly reprimands those who run counter to professional ethics and responsibilities.

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