PPP renews call for media ‘oversight committee’

The PPP has once again called for the establishment of a watchdog oversight committee for the media in Guyana and blasted US Ambassador to Guyana Brent Hardt for his comments that government censorship of opposition views on state media is wrong.

“…The party reiterates the call for the establishment of a watchdog oversight committee that would be tasked with creating the environment in Guyana that would see the development of higher levels of press freedom and freedom of expression,” the party said in a statement on World Press Freedom Day, which was observed on Saturday. “The PPP holds strongly to the position, that the power the media has is not limitless and therefore in the exercise of their duty, journalists must be responsible and professional,” it added.

The statement also condemned remarks by the US ambassador made at reception on Friday. The diplomat had said that more can be done to protect and expand freedom of the press in Guyana and government censorship of opposition views on state media is wrong. Among other things, he also called for fair distribution of state advertising.

Describing the ambassador as “a known meddler in local politics,” the PPP said that Hardt “must be rebuked for his assertion that censorship of the media is practiced by the government, at the same time he purposefully ignores the opposition slashing of the budgetary resources for NCN and GINA.” According to the party, “this exposes the political duplicity of this individual.”

A report by the International Press Institute (IPI) that investigated the media landscape in Guyana last year had said that the state media continues to be a powerful force but are widely viewed as propaganda vehicles for the government and appear to be frequently abused in order to attack the political opposition. Hardt had said that in the state-owned and state-run media, which should hold itself up to an even higher standard of balance by virtue of its being funded by taxpayers, one hardly ever sees a letter to the editor or a column supportive of the opposition or critical of the government.

“In fact, the public reads about instructions being passed by the

government to state-run television criticizing staff for airing statements by an opposition party directly after the government’s position was presented, and indicating that such presentations were only to be aired late at night when viewership was lowest,” he added. “Such censorship is not only wrong, but completely unnecessary for a government that is more than capable of defending and articulating its views on a fair playing field of public opinion,” the ambassador asserted.

The PPP, in the statement, called on all Guyanese journalists to recommit themselves to a higher level of journalistic practice which will enable them to focus on the promotion of the developmental agenda of the country. “The party believes that journalists need to address the development agenda with the same zeal and intensity as they pursue their own selfish and narrow political interests,” the statement said. It added that the PPP is committed to an environment where the news and information is fueled by facts and “not the whims and fancies of the rumour mills.”

The party said that World Press Freedom Day 2014 is being observed in Guyana at a time when the press has never been freer to criticise, report and give coverage to all matters under the sun and all issues of national importance. “The PPP acknowledges the right to report freely without undue government interference and coercion and will continue to support any and all media entities that put the future of Guyana and its people first by safeguarding their interests,” the statement said.

It noted that the PPP holds the view that considering the atrocities faced by the press during the early 1970s and 1980s, there is much to celebrate in Guyana today as the whole media fraternity has come a long way. It recounted several incidents during that period including the murder of Catholic Standard journalist Father Bernard Darke, which it said, undermined press freedom in Guyana during that era.

Further, in reference to the budget cuts to the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) and the Government Information Agency (GINA), the party condemned “the barefaced attempts by the opposition to financially strangulate the state media and its right to report and air freely the developmental agenda of the government and the people of Guyana.”

The PPP said that it stands behind NCN and GINA “throughout its tide of hardship imposed by the spiteful political opposition in their reckless desire to cut off critical information to the public.” The party demanded an “end to politically- inspired acts aimed at depriving the State Media (of) critical funds and for the allocations disapproved in the 2014 Budget.”

The statement said that the party also notes the “political venom and hate” spewed by the opposition media, namely, Kaieteur News and Stabroek News “in their attempts to destabilise and undermine the ruling PPP/C administration.” According to the statement, these acts “by their very nature undermines the principle tenants of press freedom and freedom of expression in Guyana.”

The party said that it will always support fair and objective journalism and demanded an end to the “callous, personalised attacks which are most times riddled with libel and defamation against the President, his cabinet Ministers and public officials.”

It also saluted all journalists in Guyana, the Caribbean and further afield who are pursuing their national, regional and developmental interests responsibly.

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