World Press Freedom Day: Govt must desist from actions inimical to press freedom- GPA

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…condemns continued interference in State media

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In observance of World Press Freedom Day, which is celebrated today, the Guyana Press Association (GPA) has among other things, issued a call for Government to “immediately desist” from carrying out certain actions that are inimical to press freedom and instead to subscribe to its promise of breaking with the past.

The GPA says it bemoans Government’s increasingly rigid posture against sections of the media and their organisation, the GPA, by refusing to concretely address several concerns.

The Association condemned the moves by some Government Ministers to steer the editorial content of the State media and once again voiced its objection to the role of a senior Alliance For Change (AFC) member, Imran Khan, as the Chairman of the Board of the Chronicle newspaper.

“We continue to receive complaints of Government/political interference in the work of taxpayers’ funded State-owned media… The continued presence of Mr Imran Khan, the Director of Public Information, as the Chairman of the Board of the Chronicle newspaper, sends a message of direct State control and runs counter to public statements by the President that his executive will not undermine the professionalism of the State media,” GPA expressed.

Further, the GPA said it has received complaints that its members have been accosted by presidential public affairs personnel and pulled away although President David Granger had expressed a willingness to speak.

“These actions taken together clearly send a damning message to the regional and international media community that Guyana and Guyanese media workers need to take decisive action to arrest what could very well be the continuation of media repression by successive political directorates under the guise of repeated public declarations in support of press freedom,” the GPA stated.

The GPA emphasised that the Government needs to play a significant role in helping to shape the press freedom environment. In this regard, the association called on President Granger to hold periodic press conferences of no less than one hour.

“While we do appreciate the fact that he is not averse to speaking with the media on the sidelines of public events or during his ‘Public Interest’ programme, the GPA believes that accountability to the Guyanese people will be best served through press conferences at which he can be questioned in detail about his Government’s policies and programmes.”

Moreover, the Press Association said that it sought an audience with the Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo on various issues but all their attempts at meeting with him were unsuccessful.

The Association also called on the President to advise the media in advance of his overseas engagements to allow media houses the opportunity to plan or decide whether they would like to cover those visits at their own expense.

According to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Guyana dropped three places down at number 60 on this year’s Index; and according to its commentary on press freedom in the country: “Journalists are subjected to harassment that takes the form of prosecutions, suspensions and intimidation.”

RSF also pointed out that members of the media regulatory authority are appointed directly by the President, and this restricts the freedom of certain media outlets, which are denied licences.

However, Government has since disregarded the report, noting that it was “deeply flawed.”

Government’s statement on the issue noted that Prime Minister Nagamootoo, who has portfolio responsibility for information, is unaware that the RSF has conducted any survey or inquiry into press freedom in Guyana, and questions whether its findings were based on credible sources.

However, the GPA had announced that it will be submitting a report to the RSF about its concerns regarding Government’s interference in State media.

In its World Press Freedom Day message, the GPA also underscored the importance of a strong judiciary in the protection and proliferation of free media as part of the promotion of a healthy democracy in which ordinary people and decision-makers alike can share competing ideas, constructive criticisms and suggestions for nation- building.

The GPA also emphasised the importance of fact-checking and verification of relevant and authentic sources material before dissemination on social media.

The theme of this year’s observance is “Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies.”

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