GECOM restarts media monitoring unit

-Surujbally notes ‘resurgence’ of inciting material

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has resuscitated its Media Monitoring Unit (MMU), in hopes that it would contribute to “the needed peace” during the upcoming elections period.

The MMU will be operational from Monday, GECOM’s Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally told a news conference at Hotel Tower, on Main Street yesterday, while observing that this year has seen “the resurgence of the publication of inciting articles/comments in the print and electronic media.”

He noted that there has been an increase in public comments associated with this year’s general and regional elections, some of which contained content that could lead to conflict—a scenario that he said key stakeholders should guard against.

Dr Steve Surujbally

As a result, Surujbally said that it was determined that it was the opportune time for the revival of the MMU and a letter was penned to Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon advocating that the reassembling of the unit be given priority consideration. He said that he reminded Luncheon that during their deliberations last year on the matter of the disbandment of the MMU, the understanding was that the closure was only temporary, and that the administration would support the resuscitation of the unit early in 2011. Accordingly, he said that he pointed out that the government’s disposition of the issue would pave the way for the media to operate within the principles enshrined in the code of conduct, to which all of the major stakeholders pledged adherence.

Surujbally expressed hope that GECOM’s international partners, civic society, trade unions and other aspects of society will acknowledge the value of the MMU and support the body during this year’s elections as well as at local government elections. He dubbed the resuscitation of the MMU a “major and important step to ensure that the elections will be conducted in an atmosphere of stability, decency and respect, as well as in peace and harmony.”

He also said that GECOM would greatly appreciate if the media promotes public dialogue about meaningful issues that affect people’s lives and the character of the nation, “instead of directing efforts towards sensationalist entertainment, a mass production of distraction.”

‘Ethical approach’

Meanwhile, UNDP resident representative Carlos del Castillo noted that “nobody ignores the powers of the press,” since it stands for social stability and in support of democratic behaviour. He added that the press also has the ability to disrupt the electoral process, if the relevant measures are not taken into consideration.

“That is why the UNDP with the wider donor community here in Guyana have agreed to support the re-launching of the MMU, with the idea that by doing so, we are supporting peaceful and violent-free elections of this year,” he said.

He added that the MMU is operational because the press itself has approved the Media Code of Conduct, “and by doing so, the press has agreed to have an ethical approach to the electoral process.”

Castillo said too that by resuscitating the MMU, “there is no one political party or group who wins but also the whole of Guyana and the entire democratic process.” He said that the UNDP supports the resuscitation of the MMU in order for the unit to consolidate itself and to play a role in the political life of the country after the upcoming elections.

The resuscitation of the unit comes at a cost of $11M.

The MMU ceased operations in July last year, after government’s withdrawal of its support for the unit until a date close to this year’s polls.

The formation of the MMU dates back to the March 2001 general elections, when media owners and operatives drafted the Media Code of Conduct to guide the coverage and reporting of election-l related issues.

According to GECOM, the code of conduct was monitored for adherence by the local media by the first MMU set up by the GECOM in January 2001. Subsequently, the unit was disbanded after the 2001 elections only to be resuscitated for the August 2006 general and regional elections, guided that year by a revised code, which was endorsed by the then existing stakeholders.

The MMU is currently staffed with a manager, two supervisors, and eight media monitors. It is located at Lot 8, Church Street, Lacytown, and Georgetown.

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