The Guyana Press Association (GPA) yesterday accused members of government of seeking to “dictate” the editorial content of the state media.
“These actions run counter and, in fact, are in direct opposition to President David Granger’s repeated assertions that his government will allow state newspaper, TV and radio to function as independent entities,” the GPA said in a strongly-worded statement.
“We call on President Granger to ensure that the Prime Minister and the rest of his Cabinet understand his stated policy on the state media and to urge them to let their actions be guided accordingly,” it added.
The statement was prompted by a recent letter to the editor of the Guyana Chronicle, from Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan, who argued that the members of the editorial team would have better served their “public duty” if they had given more prominence to the swearing in of Mayors and Deputy Mayors rather than ExxonMobil’s discovery of oil reservoirs at its Snoek well in the Stabroek Block in the Friday, March 24, 2017 edition of the newspaper.
The GPA said it was “startled” by minister writing a public letter “upbraiding” the editorial team and it charged that he “attempted to dictate the editorial direction of the newspaper.”
It asserted that Bulkan’s statement “can only” be interpreted as an attempt to drive fear into the editors and reporters of that newspaper, with the sole aim of securing censorship and self-censorship.
As a result, the GPA likened Bulkan’s posture to that of the former PPP/C government, which it said that the APNU+AFC coalition parties had criticised for seeking to dictate and control the editorial content of the state media.
Additionally, the GPA also voiced its “strong disagreement” with Director of Public Information Imran Khan’s continued role as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Guyana National Newspapers Limited, which is the publisher of the Guyana Chronicle.
“This sends an unmistakable signal of the executive government controlling the work of the Chronicle,” the GPA argued.
It further claimed that “a senior government Minister continues to dictate coverage of his office to the Editor-in-Chief and often has stories sent for his approval once it has to do with his office or the PNC, the main party in the governing coalition.”
The GPA also claimed to be aware that “weekly meetings of the Prime Minister with senior executives of the state media continues to be used as a tool to dictate editorial content and to silence or trivialise opposition views.”
When approached for a response, both in his capacity as the Director of Public Information and Press Secretary for Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, Khan promised to provide one today.
The GPA said its statement will be transmitted to the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, international press freedom body Reporters Without Borders, and other international bodies as part of a dossier of instances of the “deteriorating state media climate in Guyana.”
At the same time, it urged the Board of Directors of the state-owned TV, radio and newspaper to “represent the editorial staff of the Guyana Chronicle against centrally directed dictatorship in the editorial content of their entities.”
Bulkan’s letter noted that while the swearing in report was “relegated it to page eight,” the front page was dominated by the headline “More Oil” and was followed by a full-page story on page three.
He argued that the state newspaper’s “emphasis and message are totally misplaced” as oil or the revenues to be derived from it will not be the nation’s savior or solve it woes. “Effective local democracy and a functioning local government system will lead to national unity, social cohesion, good governance and stronger and more effective national institutions which together will assist in the task of delivery of good health care, education, social services, justice, public infrastructure and the like,” he wrote.
A response to Bulkan’s letter from the editor explained that “both the new oil find and the swearing-in of municipal leaders were good stories, but we exercised editorial judgement in highlighting the former as the first lead. The latter was a secondary lead also appearing on our front page. We may not be right every time, but we do so in the interest of capturing the best news story without diminishing the importance of any other.”