Guyana moves up in press freedom ranking but GPA says significant hurdles still remain

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Guyana has moved up five points and now holds a rank of 55 on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index in 2018, compared to a ranking of 60 in 2017.

The Guyana Press Association (GPA) while welcoming this improved ranking, in a press statement on Wednesday, cautioned that the reality is different for Guyanese.

Newly elected GPA President, Nazima Raghubir

“This may seem somewhat of an achievement, but in reality there are still significant hurdles to be crossed before Guyanese can feel that an improved ranking really matters,” the Association said.

According to the GPA, the specific issues that need to be addressed were highlighted as “the removal of existing criminal defamation laws in line with globally accepted standards, the deletion of offending sections in the Cybercrime Bill that could result in further entrenchment of criminal defamation, the amendment to the Broadcasting Act to remove direct intervention in the programming schedule of radio and television stations, except in cases of emergencies, political interference in the State-owned and privately-owned media by government and the opposition, and the removal of columnists from the State-owned Guyana Chronicle- a situation that appeared not to have bothered government and its professed commitment to press freedom and freedom of expression.”

As such, the entity is calling for the “various actors associated with the above-listed observations” to take remedial action to further enhance Guyana’s ranking on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index in 2019.

Even though Guyana moved up five points, RSF’s Index outlined that “although Guyana’s constitution guarantees free speech and the right to information, officials often use its defamation laws—which provide for fines and up to two years in jail—to silence opposition journalists.”

“The members of the media regulatory authority are appointed directly by the president. This restricts the freedom of certain media outlets, which are denied licenses. Recent attempts to improve regulation of the broadcast industry involved no consultation with any broadcasters,” the report said.

Moreover, it was observed that Journalists are still subjected to harassment that takes the form of prosecutions, suspensions and intimidation.

The RSF also outlined that “A draft cybercrime bill could penalize whistleblowers and media for publishing information collected ‘llegally’.”

The GPA has had reason to chide Government on several instances for abuse of power in attempting to control and restrict press freedom in the country.

One such recent incident was when local broadcasters – both private and public – were told that they are obligated to air, without charge, Government’s public service announcements (PSAs) during a specified time frame. This was stated in the draft Broadcast legislation.

However, at that time, the GPA had strongly opposed the government seeking to redefine what constitutes “public service programmes.”

GPA’s most recent pronouncement came when two former columnists of the State-owned Guyana Chronicle newspaper were fired for speaking out against Government.

Dr David Hinds and Lincoln Lewis

Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr David Hinds and veteran trade union activist, Lincoln Lewis received letters informing them that their services with the State newspaper had been terminated with their final working day being March 12, 2018.

Both letters were signed by the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief, Nigel Williams.

The Guyana Press Association (GPA) had expressed concern over the decision saying that it found “it puzzling that after two and a half years of featuring columns and editorials by the two experts in their own right that the newspaper decided to discontinue publishing their columns.”

In addition to Guyana’s ranking this year, neighbouring countries- Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil-, have attained ranks of 21, 143 and 102, respectively, on the RSF’s World Press Freedom Index as compared to last year when it was 20, 137 and 103 [respectively].

RSF’s World Press Freedom Index is a point of reference that is quoted by the media throughout the world and is used by diplomats and international entities such as the United Nations and the World Bank.

The Index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists and it is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country.

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