The opposition will be strengthening its lobby to ensure that it is given equitable access and coverage in the state media during the campaign leading up to the May 11th general elections.
Alliance For Change (AFC) Member of Parliament Cathy Hughes told Stabroek News that state media bias may also need to be tackled from a legal standpoint. She said that the APNU-AFC coalition will be meeting to discuss a comprehensive strategy to address the issue.
She said for the upcoming general elections, the opposition will be “taking it up a notch” to ensure that the state media access is equitable to the coverage currently enjoyed by the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic. “It is totally unacceptable. You cannot have a state entity, a national resource that is not accessible to a large percentage of the population,” Hughes said.
She cited the Guyana Constitution and the United Nations Charter as being inclusive of the freedom to receive and disseminate information to support inclusive democracy. “We maintain that we should be able to come to the table, put our money on the table and we should be permitted to utilise a national resource,” Hughes told the Stabroek News.
AFC General Secretary David Patterson told Stabroek News that going into the campaign the coalition was not optimistic that state media exposure would be guaranteed, given the traditional control exercised by the government.
He said to combat the state media stance, the coalition has already reached out to private entities. Patterson said private media enterprises were already spoken to and will be helping with ad placements.
Bias by NCN in favour of the government and ruling party has long been an issue raised by the AFC as well as election observer missions.
A report from the Commonwealth Observer Group following the 2011 elections had noted that lack of independence and impartiality of the media remained a problem. The report further singled out state-owned television, radio and print media, which it said, according to the Media Monitoring Unit, showed overt bias in favour of the ruling party in its coverage and news reporting.
“State-owned media was not alone in providing imbalanced reporting but bias by the state media was excessive,” the report said, noting that state-owned media had a responsibility to serve the interests of all citizens, “particularly as in some parts of the country it is the only media available.”
Hughes had previously told Stabroek News that the AFC sent ads and commercials to be aired on NCN and they have not played any of the ads except for one that featured young people. “All the others they refused to play,” she said.
Furthermore, Hughes said as recently as November, 2014, the AFC’s show, ‘Alliance on the Move,’ was sent to NCN with a request for airplay in any available timeslot. This request, she said, was repeatedly sent for weeks before NCN finally responded to indicate that the schedule was “tight.”
“So, nowhere in their 24 hours of broadcasting were they able to give some airplay to our show,” Hughes pointed out. “This is a state-owned television station which should be taking ads from any individual once it’s within morals and decency,” she said.
Patterson said the coalition was heavily reliant on social media to reach voters. “We don’t hold much confidence in the state media, given the previous experiences. We are trying to get alternative means to get our message out, including social media,” Patterson stated.
With the re-establishing of the Guyana Elections Commission’s Media Monitoring Unit, Patterson was hopeful that there would be broader consideration of the issue and he said the coalition is positive that this will serve in some capacity to ensure that freedom of expression is maintained. He did note that there was no guaranteeing the capacity the unit to effect change should the state media continue its discriminatory behaviour.
Meanwhile, during a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the claims and objections period, Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission Steve Surujbally told Stabroek News that he has already engaged with NCN and noted that the MMU will “come down hard” on NCN should it disengage.
He noted that “dictating to the media is not a good idea, putting laws into the media to supress them is not a good idea, let it be self-regulatory.”