The ruling PPP today took aim at their former longstanding stalwart Moses Nagamootoo on the question of media regulation, charging that he was exhibiting double standards and supporting “gutter journalism”.
The object of the PPP’s ire were remarks made by Nagamootoo, an experienced journalist now attorney at law and Member of Parliament for the Alliance for Change (AFC), in response to the PPP/C government’s call for media regulation.
“AFC is opposed to the state or politicians legally regulating or controlling the press. Though we admit that standards ought to be raised… this should to be done by self-regulation”, Nagamootoo told a May 14 AFC press conference.
He said that by self-regulation his party expects journalists and their professional associations to adopt high standards of ethics, and have greater regard for truth, verifiable facts, balance and fairness in their work. “Several of our journalists, mostly in the free and independent media, have already distinguished themselves for adopting these higher standards,” he stated.
Nagamootoo, who was a former Information Minister in the PPP/C administration, said that his party was not opposed to the independent monitoring of the press. He blasted government, accusing the PPP/Civic-led administration of double-standards by pushing for media regulation while abusing the state-owned media to its advantage.
“Whilst the state is terrified of the few non-government media, it encourages the vulgarity of its own media for being wholly partisan, propagandistic and pathetic, and for disregarding wholly standards of objectivity, balance and fairness,” he said.
“AFC believes that our media ought to continue the search by self-regulation of credible standards of journalistic ethics and responsibility. In this regard, the government has a legal duty to protect press freedom, not to undermine it… we do not need to regulate the press, to make laws that could further fetter it, that could muzzle it, and turn it into a toothless poodle,” he further said.
The PPP fired back today. A Freedom House statement charged that Nagamootoo is “openly advocating that the media act irresponsibly and not be held accountable like every other estate in the national jurisdiction. The PPP views this as an act of gross irresponsibility on the part of Nagamootoo”.
Nagamootoo has been the frequent target of attacks by the PPP following his decision in 2011 to mount the AFC platform and his influence in wresting key votes from the PPP in the sugar belt thereby contributing to their minority status in Parliament.
Given his stance against media regulation, the PPP said it “must ask why then would Nagamootoo and the AFC want to impose regulations on NCN and GINA? Why would they want to muzzle these State entities by denying them funding to continue operating and for the well-being of Staff? Why would Nagamootoo conveniently refuse to accept that the denial of funds to these two entities is a wanton attack on press freedom? Herein lies the brazen double standards of Nagamootoo and the AFC”.
The PPP said today that in the past it had called for the establishment of a Media Oversight Body in an effort to curb “gutter journalism” in view of what it said was the prevalence of wanton misinformation and fabrication by some private media houses.
Freedom House said that “..such a body would help guard against public malpractices in the media. Our position remains the same. Given Nagamootoo’s inflexible position, it can only be concluded that he and the AFC supports perpetration of malpractices of misinformation, fabrication and personal attacks on Party and government officials by sections of the private media.”
The party then went on to say that “Nagamootoo’s tenure as a former Minister of Information was an abysmal failure. Today his failures continue to manifest themselves in his inability to comprehend the issues at home and abroad. Further, his failure is compounded by the bitter and blind hatred he has developed for the PPP since he failed to convince his party colleague that he is Presidential material.”
Nagamootoo was Minister of Information after the PPP came to power in 1992.
“The PPP’s track record on press freedom is unmatched in the history of our nation. The overwhelming evidence of four television stations, one radio station, and two daily newspapers when we took office to some twenty television stations, over ten radio stations and four daily newspapers today, is incontestable. This along with the open and free environment created by our Government which has instilled confidence for ubiquitous internet blogs, online news services, newspapers columnists and television commentators to operate without fear of censorship remains an indelible hallmark of our dedication to the tenets of press freedom”, the party said.
Critics have however argued that the PPP severely damaged its press freedom standing by discriminating in the placement of state advertising, verbal attacks on journalists and media houses and by favourable treatment of its cronies in various parts of the media industry particularly the broadcast spectrum where licences were handed out to mainly friends and family of former President Bharrat Jagdeo shortly before the 2011 general elections.