The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is expected to hold talks with the management of the National Communications Network (NCN) to review its offer of five minutes of free programming per week for parties contesting the elections on the state-owned radio and television.
The move follows complaints by opposition coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and opposition party Alliance For Change (AFC), which say they are being virtually shut out from the airwaves in favor of the government and the ruling Peoples Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
GECOM Chairman Dr. Steve Surujbally told a media conference yesterday at Cara Lodge, Quamina Street, that the five minutes being offered was not enough for any effective campaign messages. “…Five minutes a week is not good enough and we see this, we recognize this and the Commission will be very clear in making this appeal,” he said.
The announcement came a day after APNU, during a meeting with GECOM, requested that it use its authority to advocate that the state media be accessible on an equitable basis to all the contesting parties. APNU said yesterday that its delegation also demanded that GECOM should call on the state media to desist from allowing its resources to be used exclusively as a propaganda machine for the ruling party.
NCN Programme Manager Martin Goolsarran, in a letter to opposition political parties, indicated that NCN was offering “all political parties five (5) minutes of airtime weekly on radio or television, free of charge. Basic production facilities will be available for this purpose, also free of cost.” He also said that all material should be delivered 48 hours prior to the broadcast. “The company reserves the right to reject or to return any material that it considers libelous, in bad taste, or violating the Laws of Guyana,” the letter added.
AFC accepted the offer while APNU asked for more time, which he said could be considered in the future.
Both APNU and the AFC have cited equitable access to the state media to ensure a free and fair election as a pre-condition to signing on to GECOM’s political party code of conduct. They have argued that equitable access is essential to ensure that the electorate makes rational decisions based on adequate information from all the parties in a fair manner. Surujbally, however, yesterday insisted that the two matters were un-connected.
The issue of access to the media came into focus earlier this month when President Bharrat Jagdeo imposed a four-month suspension on privately-owned CNS TV 6, over the airing of a commentary that targeted Juan Edghill, the Chairman of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC). The APNU, AFC, TUF and several civil society organizations all criticized the timing of the decision, which they said was intended to block opposition views from the public in the run up to the polls. APNU and AFC both have programmes on the CNS TV 6.
Under pressure from the political opposition and local civil society groups, Jagdeo subsequently deferred the suspension to December 1. In justifying the move, Jagdeo said he did not want the opposition parties to have any excuse for their defeat at the polls.