The International Press Institute (IPI) has called on the Guyana Government to review all outstanding broadcast licence applications, including those lodged before the Broadcast Act took effect, and to ensure the fair distribution of state advertising.
Following its April 18-20 visit to Guyana as part of a Caribbean mission, the IPI in a report issued today also set out recommendations for the media.
In relation to what the government should do, IPI said that the broadcast licence applications including those predating the activation of the Broadcasting Act should be reviewed. The IPI during its visit here had heard many complaints about how licences were granted to a select few in 2011 just shortly before the general elections while established media houses like Stabroek News, Kaieteur News and Capitol News were ignored.
IPI also urged the government to ensure that the awarding of any new television and radio licences be done transparently and under the “guidance of an independent Broadcast Authority”.
With its main mission to the Caribbean being to lobby against criminal defamation laws, IPI called on the Guyana Government to reform the Criminal Law (Offences) Act to expunge all references to libel or defamation, primarily Sections 110 – 144.
It also urged the government to reform the Criminal Law (Offences) Act to remove references to seditious libel.
The government was also urged to transform any state media into public media that serve the interests of all Guyanese, not just those of the government.
The government was also called upon to ensure the independence of the Office of the Commissioner of Information, and equip this person with the necessary resources to do the job effectively. It also wants reforms to the Access to Information Act to abolish or specify exemptions involving the Office of the President, in line with international standards.
It also wants the government to thoroughly probe and without delay instances of violence against the press or media installations.
It also urged the state to ensure that state advertising is distributed fairly and without regard for the particular editorial stance of a newspaper. This is a campaign that Stabroek News had waged since 2006 when it was targeted by the Jagdeo administration.
The IPI report said:
“An IPI review of state advertising patterns in Guyana reveals extreme inequalities in the
way such advertising is distributed. … the state-owned Chronicle and the PPP-affiliated Mirror receive more than four times as much state advertising space as the so-called “opposition” papers Stabroek News and Kaieteur News…
“As shown, these figures do not correlate with circulation numbers: the Chronicle has (according to its own estimate) one-half of Kaieteur News‘s readership, yet receives on average 12 times as much state advertising. Such data certainly lend weight to accusations of deliberate discrimination in the distribution of official advertising, in order to punish certain newspapers for expressing their opinions. Speaking about the Chronicle and the Mirror, one editor said state advertising was a “back door subsidy because their circulation is low and they don’t attract many ads from the private sector.”
Principle 13 of the Inter-American Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, promulgated in October 2000, clearly states: “The exercise of power and the use of public funds by the state, the granting of customs duty privileges, the arbitrary and discriminatory placement of official advertising and government loans; the concession of radio and television broadcast frequencies, among others, with the intent to put pressure on and punish or reward and provide privileges to social communicators and communications media because of the opinions they express threaten freedom of expression, and must be explicitly prohibited by law. The means of communication have the right to carry out their role in an independent manner. Direct or indirect pressures exerted upon journalists or other social communicators to stifle the dissemination of information are incompatible with freedom of expression.” (emphasis added)
In relation to what the media has to do, the IPI listed the following:
Focus on producing content that is balanced and free of political bias; take care
not to insert a political slant during the editorial process
_ Invest in training to improve the quality of reporting and of investigative
reporting in particular
_ Strengthen the Guyana Press Association as a vessel for defending journalists’
rights and safeguarding ethical standards
_ Consider the creation of a sustainable self-regulatory body that can effectively
handle citizen complaints regarding the media
_ To state media, allow reporters to become members of the Guyana Press
Association and to take advantage of any training programs offered by the GPA
or other organisations
_ Refrain from “envelope journalism,” e.g., taking payment for attending press
conferences or other news gathering meetings