GECOM monitors rap media over code breaches

-opinionated news reporting source of concern

The Guyana Elections Com-mission (GECOM) Media Monitoring Unit has found “pervasive” breaches of the principles of the media code for the upcoming polls, saying that some media houses are indulging in “opinionated news-reporting” that are not in line with basic journalistic standards.

“This unprofessional practice was observed being taken to new (ridiculous) levels, especially in the nightly television newscasts, and also by some sections of the print media,” the Unit said in its report for the period August 29, 2011 to September 30, 2011, which was released yesterday. “The practice of conflating opinion with news conflicts not only with the [media code], but also with rudimentary journalism standards; and serves to deny citizens the right to accurate, balanced and fair information, which is so vital to the grooming of an informed electorate,” it added. The Unit is being funded by the International Donor Group through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Enhanced Public Trust Security and Inclusion (EPTSI) Project, and its mandate is to oversee the implementation of the 2011 Elections Media Code of Conduct.

Both state and private media houses and other stakeholders last Saturday re-committed to the media code, which is self regulatory. Among them were the broadcast and print media houses covered in the report are CNS Channel 6, WRHM Channel 7, HBTV Channel 9, NCN Channel 11, TVG Channel 28, MTV Channel 65, Voice of Guyana (VOG), Stabroek News, Kaieteur News, the Guyana Chronicle and the Guyana Times.

The report did not identify a specific media house for breaches of the code dealing with accuracy, balance, fairness, journalistic integrity and professionalism, with the Unit explaining that the objective of the initial report is to bring weaknesses to the attention of media houses for urgent attention. The state-run Guyana Chronicle was, however, specifically cited for “opinionated pieces packaged and disseminated to the general public as news reports” and the Unit said this was done in order to pre-empt the practice that the newspaper started from becoming a practice in the print media. The Unit said that the initial report signaled the end of the “honeymoon” period and that in future it would not hesitate to publicly name violators of the code.

The appearance of outlines of partisan political cleavages by certain television newscasts, and the overt political positions formalising within the editorial sections of the print media were the other concerns highlighted in the report.

The Unit’s goal is to influence “an acceptable level of balance, equity, accuracy and fairness in the reporting of political, electoral, social and governance issues by the media” in the run up to the polls. The Unit is also working to discourage the reporting of information that is by the code’s definitions “inflammatory, racially inciting/divisive or, in general, has the potential to bring the electoral processes into disrepute and/or disrupt the country’s social peace.” Its findings are based on quantitative and qualitative measurements of the tone of the coverage and the content of reporting on political parties and the government.

‘Pervasive’

In the report, the Unit noted that specific guidelines were inserted into the code in order to influence journalists and other media practitioners to practise accurate, balanced and fair reporting. While emphasising the importance of journalists adhering to the principles to promote and maintain a level playing field for all the political parties and groups contesting the country’s upcoming elections, it registered “consternation” at the “pervasive” breaches by media houses.

Addressing the prevalence of “opinionated news reporting,” the Unit noted the use and abuse of unnamed “sources,” “observers” and “experts,” to introduce personal opinions into news, or as news itself. It said while it is standard journalism practice globally to use unnamed inserts to protect the identity of vital news sources, especially in instances where it involves the dissemination of sensitive information to the public, it is used sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. “However, within the local media environment, the practice has been corrupted as a means to an end,” the Unit observed, adding that when unnamed sources are used in news reports, the are often serving as facilitators for the insertion of information that was pre-meditatively design-ed to push a self-serving political agenda, by either portraying a political party or the government in a negative light, or alternately, in a positive light. “This form of opinionated reporting, which was incipiently exclusive to the broadcast media slowly, over time, metastasised to the print media. And the Unit took note of this contrarian development, even as the trend was brazenly elevated to the level of “the new norm” in hard news reporting, during the latter part of this reporting period,” the report said.

It further noted that the appearance of outlines of partisan political cleavages by certain television newscasts, and the overt political positions formalising within the editorial sections of the print media and said that this was substantiated by data. The Unit’s said its figures revealed a marked reluctance by some newscasts to disseminate any negative information about certain political parties to citizens, resulting in one-sided and unbalanced news stories being aired nightly over the air waves. Additionally, it said in the print media the content and tone of some editorials conveyed the impressions that certain newspapers were advocating on behalf of certain political parties. “Rationally, it can be argued successfully, that as much as editorials are meant to reflect a newspaper’s position on topical issues, they also unwittingly reflect political allegiances,” it noted, while saying that its findings were just early impressions and may prove to be aberrations.

‘Concern’

Among its findings on the print media, the Unit expressed concern over Guyana Chronicle reports that appeared as news items although they were opinion pieces. “The Unit observed with some concern, a series of articles which appeared in the Guyana Chronicle News-paper over the duration of this reporting period, which appeared as news items, but were in fact opinionated pieces packaged and disseminated to the general public as news reports,” it said.

The specific ‘news’ articles were headlined “AFC pulls another stunt with Trotman” (Monday, Septem-ber 19, 2011), “AFC leadership instability may be a turn-off for the electorate” (Wednesday, September, 21, 2011) and “Event for President quite appropriate” (Wednesday, September 21, 2011).

According to the Unit, the articles were not attributed as opinionated pieces, but because they were devoid of any identifying parameters, the foremost impression conveyed to the average reader, whether intentionally or unintentionally, was that he/she was reading factual hard news reports. Each article, it added, was scathing of named opposition political parties contesting the elections.

As a result, the Unit said such behaviour is contrary to Section E 4 of the media code, which states that “news and comment must be clearly identified to avoid confusion amongst readers, viewers and listeners.” It said it hoped bringing the infraction to the attention of the management of the newspaper would help to avoid a recurrence of such behaviour in the future.

Additionally, it found that in the news section of the newspaper, the government received “superfluous amounts” of positive and neutral coverage and a comparably minuscule amount of negative coverage. The spread of positive to negative coverage given to the Government was in a ratio of over 1600:1, it observed, while noting that amongst the political parties, the ruling PPP/C gained the highest amount of positive coverage, followed by APNU and AFC, in that order. The AFC received the largest amount of coverage, followed by APNU and TUF in that order, it said. The PPP/C did not register any negative coverage. It added that comparatively, the PPP/C’s share of positive coverage was more than 8 times the amount given to APNU and AFC combined, while the negative coverage that the AFC attracted was exactly twice the amount given to APNU and TUF.

The editorials, the report said, gave a large amount of positive coverage and a moderate amount of neutral publicity to the government, while the PPP/C was the only party that gained a small amount of positive coverage. The opposition APNU and AFC were portrayed with varying amounts of negative publicity only, it observed, with APNU being depicted three times more negatively than AFC. Likewise, in letters columns, the government gained substantial amounts of positive and neutral coverage, in addition to a small amount of negative publicity. Further,  only the PPP/C received a large amount of positive publicity, while APNU, AFC and TUF attracted varying levels of strictly negative publicity. Similarly, the report found that the newspaper’s columnists distilled copious amounts of positive and neutral coverage on the government, while staying clear of penning any measurable negative comments. Among the parties, the PPP/C gained the most positive coverage, followed by the AFC and APNU, in that order. APNU did, however, receive the most negative coverage, followed by AFC, while the PPP/C did not attract any measurable negative commentary from the contributors to the columns.

In the Guyana Times’ news articles, the Unit said that government was depicted “hugely” more positive than negative at a ratio of 77:1, in addition to being the recipient of a considerable amount of neutral publicity. Among the political parties, meanwhile, APNU acquired the most positive coverage in the newspaper, followed in descending order by PPP/C, AFC and JFAP. TUF received the largest amount of negative publicity, followed by AFC, APNU and PPP/C.

The PPP/C led the positive to negative ratio of coverage at a rate of 23:1, while APNU’s positive to negative coverage approached 4:1. Both AFC and JFAP received a tad more positive than negative coverage, the report noted.

The Unit said that despite the abundance of positive coverage given to the government, all the political parties save the TUF attracted net positive coverage in varying degrees, which it dubbed a “noteworthy” performance since some attempt was made at promoting equitable and balanced news reporting. “The kind of reporting that has as its objective, the exposure of citizens to the programmes, policies and platforms of the political parties contesting the [polls],” it added.

The Guyana Times editorials, the report said, served the government with a copious amount of positive coverage and a moderate amount of neutral publicity, while none of the political parties attracted any measurable coverage over the past month. In its letters columns, it noted, the government was apportioned a large amount of positive coverage and an infinitesimal amount of negative publicity that was reflected in a positive to negative ratio of over 189:1. Only the PPP/C and the APNU were recipients of positive coverage, it added, while the AFC attracted the highest amount of negative coverage from writers to the column, followed in order by APNU and PPP/C. AFC was the only party that gained strictly negative coverage in the letter columns.

The report added that the newspaper’s columnists provided the government with small amounts of positive and neutral publicity, while APNU and AFC were portrayed wholly in a negative light.

According to the Unit, Kaieteur News’ reporting saw the government receiving considerably more positive than negative coverage, which was complemented with a large amount of neutral publicity. Among the political parties, the AFC secured the highest amount of positive coverage, followed by APNU and PPP/C, in that order. “Contrastingly, the PPP/C attracted the most negative reportage, followed by AFC, APNU and TUF,” it said, while adding that the PPP/C also accumulated appreciably more negative than positive coverage from the news reports in the newspaper, while APNU’s positive to negative coverage was 4:1, and AFC more than 2:1. PPP/C and TUF were the only parties with net negative coverage, it further said, adding that the negative coverage given to the PPP/C was more than the combined negative coverage apportioned to APNU, AFC and TUF.

The newspaper’s editorials, meanwhile, were found to have given government almost three times more negative than positive publicity, while of the parties the PPP/C was given small amounts of positive and neutral coverage, and APNU collected a small amount of neutral publicity. In the letters columns, the report said the government scored approximately five times more negative than positive coverage, while of the political parties APNU gained the highest amount of positive coverage, followed by PPP/C and AFC, in that order. On the negative side, the PPP/C led the way, followed by APNU and AFC. Moreover, the PPP/C and APNU conceded net negative publicity, while the AFC, accumulated net positive coverage.

The newspaper’s columnists, the Unit found, gave more negative than positive coverage to government, while among parties the AFC was the recipient of the most positive coverage, followed by PPP/C and APNU. The PPP/C, it noted, collected the largest accumulation of negative publicity, and was followed by AFC and APNU, in that order.

The Unit, however, noted that newspaper’s columnists “typified balanced and equitable opinion-writing at its best,” while noting that the blend of columnists that were given carte blanche—subject to editorial discretion—to pen their commentaries, resulted in variable coverage being given to the government and the political parties which consistently presented readers with contrastingly balanced opinions on topical political issues of public interest. The report found that in Stabroek News’ general news section, the government gained sizeable amounts of positive, negative and neutral publicity, while securing considerably more positive than negative coverage. Among the political parties, it added, APNU gained the highest amount of positive publicity, followed in order by the AFC, PPP/C, JFAP and TUF. TUF led all parties in negative coverage, followed in descending order by APNU, PPP/C, JFAP, and AFC.

The APNU and AFC gained significantly more positive than negative coverage, at a ratio of 3:1 and 33:1, respectively, while the PPP/C and JFAP received a slightly larger amount of negative than positive coverage, and the TUF “took a battering” with a negative to positive ratio of 88:1.

In the newspaper’s editorials, the Unit said the government received 56 times more negative than positive coverage, while apart from the minuscule amounts of negative coverage observed and measured for the PPP/C and APNU, none of the political parties received any measurable coverage. Similarly, in the letters columns, the government attracted comments that were more negative than positive, while among political parties APNU led the field with positive coverage followed by the AFC and PPP/C. The PPP/C, the report stated, was the front runner in the negative columns, followed by APNU, AFC and TUF. “Individually, the PPP/C grossed approximately 7 times more negative than positive coverage; APNU and AFC attracted almost identical ratios of positive to negative portrayals, which hovered around 2:1; while TUF was the awardee of a moderate amount of negative appraisals from the writers to the column,” it said. “Comparatively, APNU received more than twice the amount of positive coverage the PPP/C captured, while, the PPP/C gained almost 3 times the combined negative coverage visited upon the AFC, APNU and TUF. Also, the PPP/C and TUF were the only parties that logged net negative coverage from the column, it added. It noted that apart from the JFAP, all the other parties received variable amounts of neutral publicity.

Stabroek News’ columnists, meanwhile, were found to have depicted the government with around seven times more negative than positive publicity, while amongst the political parties APNU garnered the most positive coverage, followed by AFC and PPP/C, in that order. Further, the PPP/C, at a ratio of three to one, received with the largest amount of negative publicity, followed by APNU and AFC. APNU was given coverage which redounded to a positive to negative spread of coverage that was a little over 8:1, while AFC gained roughly three times more positive than negative.

Significantly, the report said APNU acquired more than four times the positive coverage measured for the PPP/C and AFC combined, while the negative coverage that was measured for the PPP/C almost equaled the combined negative coverage observed and measured for the AFC and APNU. The PPP/C, it added, was the only party that received net negative coverage from the content of the newspaper’s columnists for the reporting period.

‘Refreshing’

The report cited WRHM Channel 7’s Capitol News for giving all political parties save TUF net positive coverage of varying levels during the reporting period. In terms of equitable reporting, it said that this was “refreshing and an achievement in itself.”

The Unit found that Capitol News provided the government with quantitatively more positive than negative coverage, complemented by a moderate amount of neutral publicity, while among the political parties the AFC secured the largest quantum of positive coverage, followed by APNU, PPP/C, and TUF, in that order. TUF, which was in the throes of a leadership crisis during the period under review, was apportioned the most negative coverage, followed by PPP/C, APNU and AFC. The PPP/C’s spread of coverage revealed a positive to negative ratio of just over 2:1; APNU, a positive to negative ratio of almost 5:1 and AFC 8:1. TUF was the only outlier, with a negative to positive ratio of exactly 4:1, it noted.

Meanwhile, the station’s local talk shows– Plain Talk and Eye on the Issues – were found to have provided the government with measurably more negative than positive coverage, and a moderate amount of neutral publicity. It added that the ratio of negative to positive information disseminated about the government to the general public from the two shows was just over 2:1, while among the parties the PPP/C attracted neutral coverage only, the AFC small amounts of negative and neutral, and TUF a small amount of neutral publicity.

According to the report, HBTV Channel 9’s Prime News provided the government with far more positive than negative publicity, while among parties it gave APNU the most positive coverage, with the PPP/C slightly edging the AFC for second position. TUF and PPP/C were the only two parties that received negative coverage from the newscast, the report said, while noting that APNU and AFC did not sustain any negative publicity. It added that the PPP/C gained a positive to negative spread of coverage that was more than 2:1; APNU acquired considerable positive coverage and a small amount of neutral, AFC, moderate amounts of positive and neutral, and TUF, a moderate amount of negative. “Comparatively, APNU received more positive publicity than PPP/C and AFC, combined, while TUF’s negative coverage was more than double the same timed for the PPP/C,” it said.

On the channel’s talk shows, meanwhile, the report said the government was “deluged with a substantial barrage of negative coverage, a sprinkling of positive and a moderate amount of neutral, resulting in a lop-sided ratio of negative to positive coverage that was 60:1.” At the same time, APNU garnered the largest share of positive coverage, followed by AFC, and the PPP/C among the political parties. The PPP/C’s negative to positive ratio of coverage was 12:1, while APNU and AFC were burnished with relatively large amounts of positive coverage, which was not despoiled by any negative publicity, the report said, while adding that APNU gained more than three times the positive coverage timed for PPP/C and AFC, combined.

“The contrasting coverage timed for the government and the ruling PPP/C on the one hand, and the AFC and APNU, on the other, is due to the fact that the talk shows were dominated in the main by programs done by the Parliamentary Opposition Political Parties – PNCR-1G and AFC,” the Unit pointed out.

Meanwhile, it said from the contents of the channel’s general programmes, the government was portrayed largely positive and moderately negative, with the positive swamping the negative by a margin of approximately 3:1. Amongst the political parties, APNU saw large uncontested amounts of positive and neutral coverage, whilst the PPP/C took in a small amount of negative coverage. The report said state-run NCN Channel 11’s newscasts provided the government with substantial positive coverage and sizeable neutral publicity, while among the parties the PPP/C was the recipient of the most positive coverage, followed by the APNU and AFC. In the allotment of negative coverage, however, AFC edged APNU and only those two parties were the recipients of negative coverage. APNU received small amounts of positive, negative and neutral coverage, with the negative being almost thrice the positive, the report said, while noting that AFC was the recipient of a small amount of positive and moderate amounts of negative and neutral coverage, with the ratio of negative to positive coverage being nearly 4:1. “The positive coverage given to the PPP/C by the news team was more than 3 times the same coverage timed for AFC and APNU, combined,” it added.

The talk shows on the channel also allotted extensive positive coverage to government, “a relatively trivial amount” of negative coverage and a fairly large amount of neutral coverage. “For the record, the coverage apportioned to the Government had an inflated positive to negative spread of 305:1,” it said, while adding that from the ranks of the political parties only the PPP/C commanded measurable positive, negative and neutral coverage, “with the positive coverage being timed and calculated at more than 11 times the negative publicity apportioned to the party.”

General programming

In general programming, the report said the government gained massive positive coverage, a relatively substantial amount of neutral publicity and no measurable negative coverage. The PPP/C, meanwhile, garnered a small amount of positive coverage, while APNU gained a slight amount of negative coverage. No other political parties received coverage in general programmes over the course of the reporting period. “The virtual monopoly of coverage that the government secured from this section of the station’s programming was due mainly to the governmental focus of the many GINA-produced programs that saturated the daily general programming schedules of the channel,” the Unit noted. It added that the commentaries aired on the channel for the reporting period dressed the government with a moderate amount of positive coverage and a small dosage of neutral coverage. Among the political parties, it pointed out that the PPP/C was the only party that gained coverage of any sort, taking in a moderate quantum of positive publicity.

TVG Channel 28’s Evening News gave the government a large amount of positive coverage and an incomparably small amount of negative publicity, the report said, with a positive to negative spread of over 38:1. Among the political parties, the ruling PPP/C gained the most positive coverage, followed by AFC and APNU, in that order, it said. However, the AFC was accorded the highest amount of negative coverage by the news team, followed in descending order by TUF, APNU and PPP/C. “The PPP/C was the beneficiary of exactly 4 times more positive than negative coverage; APNU gained slightly more positive than negative; AFC a bit more negative than positive; and TUF, a moderate amount of negative only,” it added.

Additionally, from the channel’s general programmes, the government came in for a moderate amount of positive coverage, while only the PPP/C gained a moderate amount of positive publicity among political parties.

MTV Channel 65’s News Update portrayed the government with extensive positive, negligible negative, and a large amount of neutral publicity, according to the report, with a positive to negative spread of coverage timed for the government measured at over 355:1.

It added that two political parties acquired positive coverage through the newscast – PPP/C and APNU – with the PPP/C obtaining the most and APNU, the least. Additionally, APNU was the recipient of the largest share of negative coverage, followed by AFC and PPP/C, in that order. The PPP/C was given a moderate amount of positive coverage, slight negative and a small amount of neutral publicity, the report said, while adding that the party’s positive to negative ratio of coverage was over 17:1. APNU, meanwhile, received small amounts of positive, negative and neutral coverage, conceding from the spread of coverage it was given a negative to positive ratio of over 2:1. Also, AFC came in for small amounts of negative and neutral coverage. While APNU collected more negative coverage than the PPP/C and AFC, combined, the APNU and AFC were the only parties that suffered net negative coverage on the newscast for the reporting period.

The Unit also said that Channel’s talk shows and general programmes provided the government with a substantial amount of positive coverage and a large quantum of neutral publicity, while the PPP/C was portrayed with a moderate amount of positive coverage, and the APNU was depicted with slight negative publicity. The general programmes, the report said, depicted the government with mammoth positive coverage and a large, but lesser amount of neutral. The PPP/C, it added, gained a moderate amount of positive coverage and a small dose of neutral publicity, while the AFC came in for a small amount of positive coverage. The report said CNS Channel 6’s general programmes provided information to the public that conveyed far more positive than negative publicity for the government. It added that the PPP/C and APNU monopolised the coverage from the station’s programming, with APNU gaining significantly more positive coverage than the PPP/C, while both shared almost equal amounts of negative publicity. The positive coverage captured by APNU was found to be 11 times more than the same coverage timed for the PPP/C. However, the PPP/C unlike APNU, contracted net negative coverage.