VOG in ‘blatant electioneering’ on morning of polls, MMU finds

-CNS TV 6 cited for inciting, slander

State-owned Voice Of Guyana (VOG) is being criticised for airing a “news report” on polling day that predicted a majority win for the PPP/C, which the Guyana Elections Commission’s Media Monitoring Unit (MMU) called a blatant act of “electioneering” to sway voter preference.

“…[The MMU] harbors absolutely no misgiving in labeling the “news” item as a blatant act of electioneering lacking the sophistication of subtlety,” it said in its latest report, released yesterday, referring to VOG’s newscast on the morning of polling day, during which it reported that the incumbent PPP/C was heading for victory based on a tracking poll conducted by the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) and pollster Vishnu Bisram. “To all intent and purpose it was a foolhardy and crude attempt to sway voter preference in a certain direction. The State Media’s (Radio) observed engagement in electioneering on Voting Day cannot, should not, and will not be swept under the carpet as a minor misdemeanour…” it added.

The MMU, which monitored media coverage for the period November 28 to December 15, 2011, also cited CNS Channel 6 over a broadcast of the Voice of the People talk show, where a guest alleged that the Elections Commission was complicit in the rigging of the elections results. Given the post-elections tension at the time, MMU said the allegations were “an incitement to riotous behavior and public disorder.”

Apart from what it dubbed the “injudicious violations,” the MMU found that there were fewer breaches of the Media Code of Conduct during the pre and post-elections period than at the last general elections. It, however, expressed concern over more instances of opinionated news-reporting, and particularly in radio and television newscasts, and inequitable and imbalanced reporting that were observed during the pre and post-elections period.

According to the MMU, VOG, on the morning of November 28, had an announcer read the following “news” item:

“The latest opinion tracking poll conducted by the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) shows the incumbent People’s Progressive Party Civic heading for another victory over the three opposition challengers. It shows that the PPP/C is winning 52% of the votes which can go up to 60% with A Partnership for National Unity at 32%, the Alliance for Change at 14% and The United Force less than 1%. This suggests that the PPP/C is about 19% in front of APNU and 27% ahead of the AFC. NACTA said given the undecided voters, soft support for AFC and the marginal variance, it is not impossible for the PPP/C to get close to 60% and APNU to get close to 40%.”

The PPP/C eventually won the presidency with 48.6% of the vote, but lost control of the House to APNU and AFC.

Flagrant violation

The MMU called the item a flagrant violation of  Section K of the Media Code, which explicitly states that the publication of poll results should always be accompanied by information regarding the date, location, financial backing, methodology used, number of persons interviewed, questions asked and margin of error. “…even without the Code serving as a compass, it was downright unethical and a breach of all the known tenets of professional journalism to indulge in that sort of behavior on such a critical day in the country’s history. Undoubtedly, it is the kind of behavior that gives journalism a bad name,” it added, while saying that it holds the editor of the newscast responsible for the airing of the news item.

In the run up to the polls, the opposition parties had complained to the Elections Commission about the state media’s bias in favour of the ruling party. The issue was raised recently during talks between new President Donald Ramotar and the opposition groups APNU and AFC.  APNU Chairman David Granger said that he advocated for a change in policy by the state media so that other political parties can have access and that Ramotar promised to examine the proposal.

Among the MMU’s findings of the post-elections coverage by the other state media entities, namely NCN Channel 11 and the Guyana Chronicle, was the fact that APNU managed to tally a large amount of positive coverage from a Nation Watch program that was aired by the former for the first time.

Meanwhile, the MMU also criticised CNS Channel 6 for the Voice of the People programme aired on December 10, during which it said guest Jinnah Rahman repeatedly alleged that the Elections Commission was complicit in the rigging of the elections results. “The fact that Mr. Rahman made these damning allegations impugning the integrity of the Commission, without presenting any credible or convincing evidence to substantiate his assertions, was serious enough to warrant the attention of the Unit,” the MMU said, while adding that host C.N. Sharma was observed verbally leading his guest “down the pathway of irresponsibly slandering” the Elections Commission.

It added that the allegations were “deliberate and intended to influence a sinister outcome,” since they were uttered in the tense aftermath of the declaration of the results, which triggered protesting in the streets of Georgetown. “Having regard for the extant situation on the ground at the time, the allegations made have to be objectively seen for what they are: an incitement to riotous behavior and public disorder,” it said, while noting that the broadcast of the program breached Section H of the Media Code of Conduct, which warns against “the deliberate distortion of reality.”

Just over a month before the elections, a four-month ban was imposed on CNS Channel 6 by then President Bharrat Jagdeo, based on the advice of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB), after a complaint over a commentary broadcast by the station. Jagdeo, faced with intense opposition over the move, later temporarily lifted the ban. CNS Channel 6 has also been accused of other violations in the past and was subject to a previous suspension.

Meanwhile, MMU concluded that there were many issues affecting media performance over the past four months, but noted that there were markedly fewer instances of the airing/publication of racially divisive material by the print and broadcast media as compared with the previous polls in 2006. At the same time, it noted instances of opinionated news-reporting, especially in radio and television newscasts, and said that the occurrences of inequitable and imbalanced reporting were far more prevalent than at the last elections. It added that the media’s coverage of this year’s elections has shown that potential is there for incremental improvements, but owners, managers and editors must muster the gumption to untangle themselves from the control of inverse political influences. “Put simply, the arbiters of media information are faced with two choices: pursue with the present status quo and continue to wallow in a stultified media environment; or, renounce the nuptials that keep them wedded to political allegiances,” it said, adding that the latter option would allow them to pursue an independent pathway that leads to the evolution of higher levels of media standards in the country.

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