The Guyana Press Association (GPA) has written to President David Granger complaining about interference by ministers and others in the work of the state media and it singled out Minister of Information and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and Director of Public Information Imran Khan.
“The Guyana Press Association (GPA) wishes to place on record our deep concern regarding interference in the work of the state media…by government ministers, departments and officials of the administration,” the GPA stated in the letter, which was dated April 13th.
Stabroek News yesterday contacted Khan, who asked whose signature was on the letter. He was told that the newspaper had verified the authenticity of the correspondence and that a response was what was being sought.
Khan said that while the letter was verified by the GPA’s President as being sent from that body, he was told by the GPA’s Secretary that she was unaware of it. Up to press time, neither Khan nor the Prime Minister had responded to the GPA’s complaints.
This newspaper was also told that up to yesterday, there had not been an acknowledgement of the letter by the President’s office.
The GPA registered its concerns ahead of the recent release of a US State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2015, which cited actions of Prime Minister Nagamootoo, under the heading of ‘Censorship or Content Restrictions.’ Nagamootoo has since rejected the contentions in the US report.
“It is our understanding that the Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, hosts a weekly meeting at which clear directives are given to the state media (also the Government Information Agency) regarding propaganda to be dispensed by these agencies. This, Mr President, clearly demonstrates that the Executive’s penchant for directing the work of the state media, despite public utterances that these agencies would be allowed to function independent of the political directorate,” it said in the letter.
“It is our considered view that such meetings not only bear the hallmarks of government interference in the work of the state media, but also constitute a grave act of intimidation into slavishly following the dictates of the executive government,” it added.
In relation to the Director of Public Information, the GPA alleged that there have been “numerous” instances in which Khan intervened in the state media’s work. Khan “has either sought to dictate content of NCN and the Guyana Chronicle, and in some cases even having content removed. On other occasions, there are reports that Mr. Khan has criticised and even berated workers of the state media. This clearly amounts to acts of intimidation and causes these state media workers to practice self-censorship,” the letter stated.
Aside from the Prime Minister and his assistant, the GPA cited other examples of interference. “…there are several accounts of ministers of government calling the Guyana Chronicle and NCN, complaining of either not being covered or the way they are being covered,” it said, while noting that in one instance a Junior Minister approached a senior reporter of NCN to berate her for not covering an assignment when in fact the assignment was covered and aired.
“There are other instances where Ministers have complained to editors of the Guyana Chronicle about the approach of journalists in the execution of their duties. In one case, Sir, even your Liaison Officer called the Guyana Chronicle to complain about the way a reporter executed her duties at an assignment of a Minister of Government,” it added.
The GPA further complained that the boards of both NCN and the Guyana Chronicle are “deeply involved” in making editorial decisions, including deciding who should attend overseas training programmes and assignments.
The GPA said its correspondence to the President was sent with the hope that the President will take some action to ensure not just state media, but that all media agencies are allowed to work free of interference and intimidation from ministers and other functionaries of his executive. Granger, a historian, is also a former journalist.
In its manifesto, the APNU+AFC coalition had pledged to guarantee the independence of the media, freedom of access to information, the liberalisation of broadcasting and the removal of barriers to access to the state media.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon had said last year that government is working on a policy to ensure responsible reporting by the state media. Harmon said the policy is being considered and was not yet completed.
This statement had evoked concerns that the government was moving in the direction of curtailing media freedoms.
Despite the numerous concerns that APNU+AFC had raised while in opposition about abuse of the state media by the former PPP/C government, critics say the current administration moved swiftly to put its own machinery in place and has since faced allegations of similar behaviour.
Critics have also said that the new administration made no attempt to enunciate a policy on the state media and to decide whether it was still necessary.