There was never any question of the media expecting that they would secure access to the ‘closed’ sessions of the proceedings that formed part of the Guyana Defence Force’s (GDF) Annual Officers Conference on Thursday and Friday at Base Camp Ayanganna. Journalists know the ‘drill.’ Their invitation to provide coverage is a limited one, confined to the President’s address, the content of which usually extends into matters belonging in the broader public domain. After that, the military is left to carry on with their national security discourses.
So what was it that led to the squall at Ayanganna on Thursday that precipitated media representatives, (including state media functionaries) beating a retreat from the army HQ without waiting for the President’s address?
If the account of events contained in the media release issued by the Guyana Press Association (GPA) is anything to go by (and up until now, as far as we know, the Guyana Defence Force has not challenged what the release had to say), Thursday’s walkout came following what the GPA said was the “royal run-around” to which the media functionaries were subjected. The long and short of it, according to the GPA release, was that having seemingly fluffed its lines with regard to some logistical aspects of accommodating the media at the event, the army’s primary concern thereafter was with extricating itself from its self-inflicted quandary, or put differently, saving face. The media, it seems, were simply the sacrificial lamb.
That, it would seem, clears up an important point. There appeared to be no malice, no premeditated attempt to embarrass the media on the part of the GDF. What transpired was a frenetic face-saving job in the course of which someone (in this instance, some group) had to be discommoded. The media representatives were the soft target.
The incident may well have gone unnoticed but for the fact that the media corps decided that they had had enough of the sort of shabby treatment with which they were being confronted at Ayanganna and which had become par for the course over time in the execution of their duties. On Thursday they decided to draw a line in the sand.
So that one way of looking at what happened at Ayanganna on Thursday would be to see the incident in the context of the lack of regard for the working media that has been commonplace in the relationship between itself and officialdom. It is a state of affairs that has, over time, manifested itself just about everywhere ‒ in the media’s coverage of the National Assembly, in attempting to report on routine public events, in providing coverage of media conferences, in seeking reasonable access to information in police-related stories and perhaps most notably in seeking to have public officials share information that manifestly belongs in the public domain. In each of these altogether legitimate pursuits media functionaries have been subjected to various forms of inconvenience and not infrequently, instances of unbearable official rudeness.
The media, meanwhile, over the years, have proffered a sort of suck-it-up-and-carry-on response. Meanwhile, it has increasingly appeared, in some instances, that official interest in the work of the media extends only as far as it goes in burnishing individual and institutional images.
On the whole the media have suffered a continual loss of face, an erosion of professional image in some establishment circles, and it is that loss of image that has fashioned the yardstick that is used to measure the importance of the media and its work. What happened at Ayanganna on Thursday is a microcosm of an entrenched propensity to deny the media their due, to routinely neglect their warranted courtesies and conveniences, which courtesies and conveniences have long been accepted elsewhere in the region and beyond.
At one point, on Thursday, in the course of the ‘run around’ that preceded their exit from Ayanganna and again according to the GPA media release, media operatives were required to take up standing room under what must have been the quizzical gaze of seated army officers. Then at another point, whilst the GDF was presumably putting its ultimately futile face-saving operation in place, the media were required to wait in the Bar. That sort of courtesy deficit, coming from the GDF, is altogether unacceptable.
So that it is not so much a question of picking a proverbial fight with Ayanganna, as it is a matter of making the point that what happened on Thursday mirrored a more deeply ingrained disregard for the media and its work that extends across the broader sphere of officialdom. It reflects, as well, a hypocritical paradox manifested in a propensity by officialdom to pay voluminous lip service to media freedom whilst, simultaneously, treating the media with ill-concealed dismissiveness.
As was mentioned earlier, the media too have, over time, been preoccupied with their reporting responsibilities so that they have not stopped long enough to seek the removal of those conditions with a greater measure of robustness. Here, it has to be said that there is no really persuasive evidence that the agenda of the Guyana Press Association has ever sufficiently taken account of the need to demand of officialdom a much greater measure of respect and recognition. Specifically, what is sometimes the humbug, even humiliation, that so often stands in the media’s way of doing their job in the manner that it has to do be done, must end.
Ayanganna, meanwhile, owes the media a fulsome apology.