Nineteen media workers today walked out of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Annual Officers’ Conference to protest the treatment received at the hands of the organizers who subsequently said that the instructions were that the media be kept out of earshot of sensitive information.
Not only was there a deliberate attempt to delay the media’s arrival to cover the event but there were no seating arrangements in place. The media, it was later explained were only invited for the feature address to be delivered by President David Granger and were invited to sit at the Bar until such time.
The Guyana Press Association (GPA) in a subsequent release said that it stands firmly with those who walked out of the GDF’s Headquarters at Base Camp Ayanganna, following what can be described as “gross disrespect for those in the profession”.
Three days ago the GDF’s Public Affairs Department sent out a release inviting the media to the opening ceremony of the two-day conference but no start time was given; it was indicated that this information would be made available at a later date. On Wednesday, the Public Affairs Department via email indicated that “all media representatives attending and providing coverage for this event are requested to be at Base Camp Ayanganna for 0930 hours”. The email did not indicate the actual start time of the conference or which entrance should be used.
Stabroek News was later informed that the Thomas Lands entrance was the one to use. On arrival this newspaper met several media workers standing under a benab outside the compound in the company of a member of the Public Relations Department. After a few minutes, the media workers some of whom had heavy camera and video equipment were led into the compound en route to the Officers’ Mess Hall located near Carifesta Avenue. However half way there the media workers were led to a small room in a building where they were told that they had to wait there as the president has not yet arrived. By this time it was 9:35am.
Member of the Public Relations Department, Major Earl Edghill told the media that the wait would be for about ten minutes. He was reminded that cameramen needed adequate time to set up their equipment and a complaint was lodged about the cramped conditions in the room.
After a few minutes, the media were informed that they would be escorted to the Officers’ Mess Hall and were asked to do so in “an orderly manner”.
As Stabroek News approached the Hall it became clear that the proceedings had started as Chief of Staff Brigadier Patrick West could be heard making a presentation. The president’s drivers as well as members of his press team were already there.
Edghill then asked the media to wait in the lounge area. He came back shortly after and asked the media to be quiet while he led them upstairs. On arrival in the conference room, he signaled to a spot next to sitting officers. There were no chairs.
At that time, several media workers began voicing disapproval at the treatment meted out and a collective decision was taken to leave.
Outside, Head of the GDF’s Public Affairs Unit, Colonel Michael Shahoud attempted to persuade reporters to return to the venue while explaining that the Chief of Staff’s presentation contained sensitive information.
“We are inviting you members of the media to the Bar. From there you will be given an opportunity to go up and establish your equipment to hear the president’s speech to officers”, he said.
When told that previously, the media were allowed to hear the Chief of Staff’s presentation, Shahoud said, “you have covered it in the past (but) for the last two years we have included some sensitive information which we would not want members of the public to be (privy) to”. He stressed that this is only the “second time this has happened because as I said the conference has taken on a new dimension. I want to kindly appeal to you one last time to come here, establish your equipment because at this point in time is when we will allow you…”
The GPA in its statement used the opportunity to remind the GDF of the importance of the media, not only as a group but as a major partner that also works to ensure the integrity and sovereignty of this country. “The media does not work in a vacuum and its members should be treated with the respect it deserves”, the statement said.
The association noted that it is “unfortunate that the GDF continues to engage the media in this manner even after repeated attempts to engage and work towards a better relationship”.
It was pointed out that the GPA reached out by way of a letter dated January 15th, 2018 to have more frequent engagements with the GDF but to date the correspondence has not been acknowledged.
Members of the newly elected GPA were also part of the walkout as well as those from the State media.