THIS past weekend, President Granger may have shocked media practitioners when he announced that government would help the Guyana Media Association with the training of its members.The president also announced that the government would facilitate journalists travelling to far-flung areas of the country to cover developments in those communities.
Of course this is part of a larger initiative by the President to provide assistance to various organisations which provide service to critical areas of national life.
This assistance to the media fraternity is especially significant for at least three inter-related reasons. First, it is significant that the President made it very clear that the assistance comes with no strings attached. In fact, he urged the journalists to critically examine his government’s performance, so that it could better deliver on its responsibility to the nation. This is a very refreshing stance by the president.
A close look at our post-colonial experience would reveal that previous governments have had very hostile relationships with the independent media. They responded to media criticism with punishment in the form of withdrawal of government advertisements, libel suits, and open harassment of journalists, among other things. Concomitantly, the state-owned media were transformed into mouthpieces of the governing party, and journalists attached to those entities had to practise self-censorship.
Second, that the president has not confined the offer of training to the state media, but has very importantly included the privately-owned media, shows a very broad-minded vision. The president is thinking about the advancement of the profession at large and about the country’s development.
For us, this is what good governance is about. Government must, at all times, be concerned about the larger picture, rather than become victim of narrow partisan interests.
Third, the president is moving to address a very important aspect of journalism in Guyana — training. While the University of Guyana does offer a degree programme in Mass Communication, Guyana does not have an accredited journalism school or degree programme. This means than many of our journalists join the profession without any formal training in the craft. It is to their credit that they have maintained the integrity of the profession in such circumstances.
But in a knowledge-based world, journalists are being constantly challenged to expand their scope. That the government is prepared to assist in this area must be seen as an investment in a profession that is critical to an effective democracy.
Training would help to lift the standard of journalism, and encourage our young people to join the profession not simply for financial gain, but as a legitimate career choice.
We hope the President’s initiative would eventually lead to establishment of a journalism school or roll-out of an independent journalism programme at UG. We urge that the training should include not only the craft of reporting and writing, but, most importantly, it should include lessons in Guyana and Caribbean history and culture, particularly the political history and culture. This is an area where knowledge is patently lacking, not only among our media workers, but also among our young people at large.
There should also be training in the art of research, which is critical to the dissemination of information and knowledge.
Fourth, the offer to facilitate journalists travelling beyond the coastland to cover the far-flung communities is most timely. Because of the high cost of transportation to the hinterland, our media outlets have developed mostly as coastland media. This has meant that the rest of the country has not been kept fully abreast of developments in the hinterland. But, more importantly, residents of the hinterland do not get to read about, or hear and see, themselves in the media. This, in a real sense, has led to the perception that we live in two separate countries.
Media outfits should grasp the President’s offer with both hands.
Finally, we hope that the leadership of the Media Association moves expeditiously on this initiative. Administering this proposed training programme should breathe new life into the association, and encourage it to come up with similar initiatives aimed at upgrading the profession. Guyana has a great journalistic tradition; it has given the Caribbean and the world some of the most accomplished media practitioners and thinkers. Further, our country boasts one of the most vibrant media in the region.
Appropriate and more intense training of our media workers would go a long way towards maintaining those standards.