Respect for media among AFC additions to code of conduct

The Alliance For Change (AFC) has proposed several additions and changes to the draft code of conduct for political parties including the enshrining of respect for the role of the media and ensuring political equity by limiting the role of government as the general elections approach.

While the PPP/C had said it supported the code, proposed by the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), both the AFC and the APNU stated that they had reservations over it particularly in relation to access to the state media. The AFC had said further that it would be engaging all stakeholders to craft a consensus code of conduct for the upcoming polls.

In a letter to Gecom dated October 21, the AFC laid out several key additions to the code, one of the major changes being as “respect for the role of the media”.

The party stated that a transparent process for the conduct of regional and general elections in 2011 requires that government authorities, officials of Gecom, political parties and candidates “share responsibility for creating a level playing field for all contesting political parties where electors are able to freely exercise the right to vote without fear or intimidation on Election Day.”

The party said international and domestic practices define these responsibilities as including the removal of obstacles standing in the way of citizens’ right to express, seek, receive and impart information.

Therefore, in this context, the AFC declared, since the National Communications Network Inc belongs to the people of Guyana, the state media, both print and electronic, “must not be relegated as a propaganda tool for any one political contender but must rather be availed to all political parties equitably.”

The party also said that there must be a commitment to respecting the integral partnership role the media has to play in the conduct of the elections, as well as restraint from discriminatory practices.

Discrimination

The AFC then cited such discriminatory practices as the banning of any media house or any individual media representative from any press conference, rally, or political meeting open to the general public or the media.

It also stated that a representative or member of the media should not be subjected to individual ridicule or censure in the execution of his/her duties and this involves “refraining from directly or indirectly threatening, coercing, or otherwise subjecting to duress any media owner, publisher, manager or editor.”

And the overuse of new media – blogs, online forums, social networks, e-mail – must not be used to circumvent or otherwise subvert the commitment to any aspect of this code of conduct, the AFC asserted.

The party said also that in terms of “Ensuring Political Equity” it is universally accepted that only political parties take part in the election contest, and not governments.

In that light, “practical application of the principles of fairness, transparency and accountability demands the existence of agreed commonsense restrictions on the functions of government during the electoral process.”

The party suggested that in the interest of ensuring equity and fairness in the impending period of the campaign, all political parties should resolve to uphold certain conditions.

Equal access must be guaranteed to representatives of contesting political parties to polling stations without the fear of intimidation and malice; and no party shall employ the use of official/state machinery or personnel in any activity such as campaigning, including references to a party’s programmes or the use of any political promotional material during official work.

Transport

The AFC also recommended that government transport, including official aircraft and helicopters, vehicles, machinery and personnel, should not be used for the furtherance of the interest of the ruling party; and no contesting political party should “bribe or offer any compensatory conditions of support for eligible voters.”

Another addition to the code recommended by the AFC is that Gecom as the independent referee for these elections should agree to ensure that “all payments to political opposition parties from state funds for election activities will be done in a proportional basis having regard to their parliamentary strength;” and the commission should also “refrain from coercing polling agents submitted by any contesting party to take up employ as Gecom staff.”

Regarding the “Acceptance of Valid Elections” the AFC further suggested that “upon the declaration of the official results by the Guyana Elections Commission and subject to there being no reasonable queries about the integrity of the results,” losing parties and candidates should “exhibit graciousness in their acceptance of the elections results,” and similarly the winning party must “demonstrate modesty and decorum and pledge itself to govern in the all-encompassing interests of all Guyanese.”

The AFC said that it had given the commission’s document its “most careful consideration” and acknowledged the importance of the code of conduct in the holding of general and regional elections.

In addition, the AFC expressed hope that the “suggested amendments will be considered with a view to producing a document that we would be prepared to sign.”

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