NCN must now fully recognize the right of the opposition parties to equal time

Dear Editor,

Now that GECOM too has added its voice to the unfairness of the five-minute weekly air time offered to the opposition parties by the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) it is hoped that NCN management will let justice prevail. A five-minute weekly news report in a 30,240 minutes week, given the four broadcasting channels (one television and three radio) with an average 18-hour per day broadcast, still shuts out the opposition’s voice.

Consequently this offer flies in the face of democracy and ensuring free, fair, transparent and credible elections.

In making its proposal NCN acknowledges the media play an “important role” and it “is aware that its network is a critical player in this [electoral] process and it is assuring all stakeholders that it will continue to exercise fair play and good judgment during this period.” These acknowledgements must now be supported by actions which respect the right of parties and candidates to freely communicate their views to the electorate through equality of access to the people’s media. Herein, any “exercise of fair play and good judgment” must: a) include access to prime time coverage of opposition activities and equal news coverage by state reporters; b) fair and balanced reporting of opposition activities and not skewing of events and reports to serve the incumbent’s political purpose; c) the right to respond must also be guaranteed in the instance where a party (opposition or governing) makes an allegation or wrongful accusation of the other, and the party making such claim called upon to provide credible sourcing/evidence; and d) where necessary the opposition must also be allowed up-to-the minute news coverage same as the incumbent.

Our right to freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 146 of the Consti-tution and such must never be curtailed or compromised for any reason and/or under any guise. And in this instance where NCN is owned by the people ours becomes the right to demand equal access. As a people we must ensure our right to be heard, our voices are not silenced by the Jagdeo/Ramotar partnership. We must ensure that this final right of ours is not taken away for when we lose our voices no one can hear our cries and pain. We cannot articulate our needs and our deprivation.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has established that the authority to govern shall be based on the will of the people as expressed in periodic and genuine elections. This is premised on the right to campaign in an environment unrestricted by laws and administrative humbugs, freedom of information and access to the media. It entails free media.

Guyana must move away from this era of darkness that is stifling us. We are operating in 2011, in a political system that will witness the exclusion of a large sector of our society. We are going into an elections where the incumbent PPP has the deck stacked in their favour and which will allow for their continued tokenism and further entrenchment to the detriment of good governance and expression of free will. The PPP talks of democracy yet any true democracy will not see us 19 years after this regime came into power struggling for freedom of expression and the right to be heard, free press and radio licences, nor would we be struggling to end state monopoly of the radio and calling on this government to take the necessary steps to guarantee non-partisan coverage in State media.

Yours faithfully,
Lincoln Lewis

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