GINA ads and a gov’t exposed

As we reported in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek, the Guyana Times which was launched in June last year is already receiving 19.5% of state advertisements through the Government Information Agency (GINA). The statistic is important for three reasons. First, it shreds to bits what the government had paraded as its policy at the point that all GINA ads were withdrawn from the Stabroek News in November 2006. Second, it is a classic example of unfair competition. Third, the allocation is a flagrant abuse of taxpayers’ funds.

The public is well aware that when all ads were withdrawn from SN in 2006 the government embarked upon a hastily contrived defence of what it said was the GINA decision.  President Jagdeo was among those who argued that the decision was premised on a policy of allocating ads to the state paper – the Guyana Chronicle – and the largest private daily which he said was the Kaieteur News.  Up to that point, both private dailies and the state-owned Guyana Chronicle had been receiving ads. The new policy was varied in May last year when GINA resumed advertising in SN without an explanation.  It was further varied in May this year when GINA began advertising in GT to the extent that the newspaper – just over a year old – has garnered nearly 20% of state advertising in September.  When SN’s ads were halted the government had said that the major portion would go to KN but even they have now fallen below GT as shown by the figures presented in yesterday’s report. It would now appear that the sole purpose for the government resuming advertising with SN was to pave the way for ads to be given to GT.

Will the government now shamefacedly come up with a new explanation? Or will it do what it has now famously become known for – just simply stonewall, dissemble or say nothing at all. Whatever route it takes this government must now be acutely aware that its word means little. On the street, in the corridors of power and within the confines of homes those with sense know that the government’s word cannot be held as its bond. No government since the return of democracy in 1992 has been less credible than this one and its problems mount up with each passing day barely covered by a kaleidoscope of subterfuge and deception. How it expects citizens to trust it to steer a major initiative such as the setting aside of the country’s forests in the fight against global climate change is beyond comprehension.  We await President Jagdeo’s explanation for this new formula for the distribution of ads. Will the government now say that some phantom survey has established that the Guyana Times has captured 20% of the market?

The allocations to GT also highlight how unfair competition is enabled by this government.  Guyana Publications Inc, the publishers of SN has been a model participant in the economy since 1986. It has never benefited from concessions, employs just over 100 persons, pays its taxes and took a huge loan from a commercial bank to purchase a press which it was thankfully able to pay off several years ago despite very tough economic conditions. It has never had it easy and suffered the most serious attack on its freedoms and finances when this PPP/C administration stopped state advertising in it for 17 months on spurious grounds. With wide readership and a burgeoning online presence it was always entitled to a fair portion of ads but this government had other plans. It clearly favoured GT as evidenced by controversial concessions granted to the business group that the paper has close connections with.  And now only a year later, it is feasting on a hefty portion of GINA ads. This type of practice enabled by the government would certainly fall foul of the government’s own National Competitiveness Strategy and the Caricom Competition Commission.

This, however, would hardly bother the government but perhaps the Private Sector Commission which recently warmly lauded President Jagdeo might take into account how this unfair government practice is affecting a legitimate player in the business sector like Guyana Publications and how other businesses might be similarly undermined.

As the steward of taxpayers’ money the government is also guilty of the injudicious application of its advertising dollars. The government should indeed be getting the best bang for its dollars but the only way this can be achieved is through a comprehensive survey of circulation and readership by a reputable Audit Bureau of Circulation. That would hopefully put everyone in their correct place and take the political decisions away from the mysterious figure that currently presides over the formula.

This is not a trifling matter. It concerns all of us and it speaks to the issues of trust, credibility and good governance. The government can ill afford losing on all of these fronts.

The Declaration of Chapultepec on press freedom which this government signed on to ends with an appropriate quote that all patriotic Guyanese here and abroad should take to heart. “The struggle for freedom of expression and of the press is not a one-day task; it is an ongoing commitment. It is fundamental to the survival of democracy and civilization in our hemisphere. Not only is this freedom a bulwark and an antidote against every abuse of authority, it is society’s lifeblood. Defending it day upon day is honoring our history and controlling our destiny.”

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