Despite being invited, no government representatives were present yesterday at a media workshop on reporting on the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition David Granger said that government’s stranglehold on the state media is an abuse of power.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds was scheduled to deliver remarks at the closing session yesterday but he did not turn up and no reason was given. No other government representative was present at the workshop held at the Georgetown Club.
Granger, in his remarks, advocated for greater education and professionalism in journalism. “I have great respect for journalists and for the profession of journalism, but for every profession whatever it calls itself, must be based on education,” he said. The opposition leader asserted that journalists have to be educated and understand their social responsibility which also has to be reflected in the corporate responsibility of any media entity. “If you do not adhere to those three tenets you’re a quack, you don’t belong in the profession of journalism,” Granger asserted.
Granger took aim at the state media, particularly the Government Information Agency and charged that it is used to vilify the political opposition. “How could a medium of communication supported by taxpayers’ money use such feral blasts against the entire opposition, the people who elected the majority expect their voices will be heard,” he said.
“If you feel your job is simply to report in a slanted manner the opinions and policies of some political parties and ignore the truth this is not the place for you,” he asserted. “(You have a) social responsibility to write and speak the truth, not to try to juk a person who is of a different political complexion,” he said. He illustrated this by saying that during the budget debates, various minsters were continuously “blasting” members of the opposition but the state media did not record any opposition sides. He labelled it “phantom debates.”
“There has been a war and that war has been waged between the State and the free press and we are still at war. There is a war because the State has always sought to control the free press to control the information that goes out to the public and the free press has always tried to not only embarrass the State but to provide information and opinions to the public which the State normally found unfavourable,” Granger said. He added that this war has been waged for over 220 years and it continues. “The battle continues. In this country, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces is in fact the Minister of Infor-mation…” he said.
“In this day of collapsing sugar prices, in this day of criminality and armed robbery why should he want to concern himself with information? Because information determines the behaviour of the population,” Granger asserted. He stated that it is not just a matter of control but a severe abuse of power by the government to operate State resources in such a way to “abuse the enemies of the political party that runs the State.”
“The State does not have an option. It cannot decide to malign the opposition. It cannot decide to publish half-truths. It has an obligation to this population, not an option to provide information so the public can make informed and intelligent choices,” Granger pointed out noting that the Constitution provides for freedom of the press.
“The profession that you’ve entered by whatever means, maybe you’re waiting for the green card, maybe you didn’t have something better to do, but once you are in that profession do not regard your occupation as something transitory. You have a tremendous responsibility to the people of this country,” Granger said.
Meantime, participants of the workshop which commenced immediately following the opening ceremony, were keenly aware of the absence of government officials. Hinds was slated to attend and make remarks at the closing ceremony but he was absent and no reason was given.
Opposition Members of Parliament including the AFC’s Cathy Hughes, made presentations and APNU’s Africo Selman acted as a chairperson.
When Stabroek News reached out to the Prime Minister, this publication was told that he was in a meeting. Government’s Chief Whip Gail Teixeira could not be reached for comment on the government’s absence from a workshop dedicated to the interaction of the media and the National Assembly as it relates to relaying information to the public.
The workshop was supported by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran in his address, stated that persons holding public office must understand that they are all “fair game for journalists.”
He said that there is a need for more work to be done to integrate the media in the operations of the House and the National Assembly is in need of a media department. He also revealed that while there are no Standing Orders providing for the summoning of a journalist, there is a precedent and the Speaker has the power to summon a journalist for contempt should the situation arise due to negligent reporting.