The Guyana Press Association (GPA) yesterday added its voice to the calls for the lifting of the suspension of CNS TV 6, while also urging the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to ensure that contesting parties respect the rights of journalists during the elections period.
“The GPA not only endorses the call by the Guyana Media Proprietors Association for the lifting of the suspension but urges GECOM to consider the action against CNSTV 6 as a ‘monitor-able’ one by the MMU [Media Monitoring Unit] in the context of shutting out access to the media,” GPA President Gordon Moseley said this morning at workshop for journalists being hosted by GECOM and the UG Centre for Communication Studies on a media code of conduct for the upcoming polls.
GECOM has told opposition parties that it is examining opinions on whether it can intervene to defer the suspension to some time after the upcoming polls. With the opposition parties claiming that the suspension has created “an uneven playing field” for polls, GECOM Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally has said his preference is to seek legal guidance towards arriving at a determination on whether GECOM has jurisdiction to pronounce on the matter.
Moseley, in his address, urged GECOM to play “a meaningful role” in the resolution of the CNS TV 6 suspension, which was imposed by President Bharrat Jagdeo last week. “Your organisation as a collective, and in particular its Chairman, cannot be advocates of a Media Monitoring Unit (MMU) while at the same time turning a blind eye to the silencing of a media house in an election period by the suspension of its licence,” Moseley said.
Opposition groups APNU, AFC and TUF and some civil society bodies have criticised the four-month suspension, which they say is intended to limit their access to the media during the elections period. The suspension along with concerns about the incumbent PPP/C’s use of the state-owned media have prompted calls for an opposition boycott of the polls until equal media access is assured to all contesting parties.
The suspension was based on a recommendation of the Advisory Committee of Broadcasting (ACB), following a complaint by Ethnic Relations Commission Chairman Juan Edghill, who was the subject of commentary aired on the channel. In a letter to the Chairman of the ACB Evan Persaud, Edghill said the “misleading and inflammatory statements and unsubstantiated allegations” constituted a breach of the Guyana Post and Telegraph Act.
CNS Channel 6 offered an “unequivocal apology” to Edghill for the “embarrassment and damage to character” caused by the airing of the commentary.
Meanwhile, Moseley also urged GECOM to be more vigilant in ensuring that political parties respect the rights of journalists during the elections period.
“The constant backyard style ‘cussouts’ and name calling at the political rallies by speakers who target the media rather than their political foe must come to an end,” he said. Moseley, who expressed concern that although the media is being monitored there are no independent media referees, added that while there could be disagreements about coverage, the rights of those reporters on the campaign trail ought to be respected.
Moseley told the workshop that while most media houses had largely been doing a good job at self regulation and sticking to the principles of the media code, some have been insincere and now take directions from forces and sources outside of the editorial room.
“That’s not good for elections and it’s not good for good, fair and honest journalism,” he said, while adding that journalists and editors, regardless of whether they work in the state media or the private media have a responsibility to be the gatekeeper’s of the public’s interest.
He was critical of stories “that resemble political hand outs,” and the propagation of “fictitious” sources, analysts and letter writers, saying that such practices are inconsistent with the public interest.
“Hold yourself to a higher standard, do not be intimidated. Do not be bullied. And do not use your pen as a sword. Be insightful, be objective, be wise. Understand that your greatest interest is the public’s interest,” he said.