Although Guyana has moved up from 60 to 55 in the latest Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index (RSF), signaling that press freedom in the country has improved, the Guyana Press Association (GPA) says there are still “significant hurdles to be crossed before Guyanese can feel that an improved ranking really matters.”
Ranking ahead of Guyana on the list of 180 countries are fellow Caribbean states Jamaica, at six, Suriname, at 21, and Trinidad and Tobago at 39.
Explaining how the index is compiled, RSF said that the degree of freedom available to journalists in the 180 countries is determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire it devises.
“This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated,” the press body explained.
It further revealed that the criteria evaluated in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.
On Guyana, RSF noted that although the country’s constitution guarantees free speech and the right to information, officials often use its defamation laws—which provide for fines and up to two years in jail—to silence opposition journalists. It pointed out that the members of the media regulatory authority are appointed directly by the president.
“This restricts the freedom of certain media outlets, which are denied licenses. Recent attempts to improve regulation of the broadcast industry involved no consultation with any broadcasters,” the report on Guyana said.
It was also stated that journalists are still subjected to harassment that takes the form of prosecutions, suspensions, and intimidation, however, no examples of these were given. A draft cybercrime bill could penalize whistleblowers and media for publishing information collected “illegally,” RSF added.
Meanwhile, the GPA welcomed the improved ranking for Guyana with some reservations.
In a statement, it said there are still “significant hurdles to be crossed” before Guyanese can feel that an improved ranking really matters. In this regard, it cited the need for the removal of existing criminal defamation laws in line with globally accepted standards; the deletion of offending sections in the cybercrime bill that could result in further entrenchment of criminal defamation; and an amendment to the Broadcasting Act to remove direct intervention in the programming schedule of radio and television stations, except in cases of emergencies.
There should also be no political interference in the state-owned and privately-owned media by government and the opposition, it added.
The GPA also noted the removal of two columnists from the state-owned Guyana Chronicle, which it said appeared not to have bothered government and its professed commitment to press freedom and freedom of expression.
The GPA expressed hope that its suggestions would be taken into consideration by the powers that be and remedial actions taken so as to further improve Guyana’s ranking next year.