Gov’t record on press freedom and SN complaints

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The Stabroek News, in its lead on Thursday, accused President David Granger and his Government of being unfair as that newspaper continues its campaign against what it termed the withdrawal of state advertising from it. The newspaper also attributes its accusations to the “forthright reportage on the government in the aftermath of the December 21st, 2018 vote of no-confidence against it in Parliament.”

The record in the public domain completely debunks these claims as the Department of Public Information (DPI) informed the nation back in September that it was Stabroek News that took the unprecedented decision to refuse state advertising owing to a large outstanding debt and when it was paid off, asked to be reconsidered, but this has not been done at the large volumes it once enjoyed as some of the agencies by then had moved to other media platforms to air their advertisements.

The DPI stated that Stabroek News, for the first nine months of 2019, received the second largest share of state advertisements, when compared to the other three daily newspapers in the country. In fact, the records show that the privately-owned newspaper raked in $57.3M in state advertisements in 2018 when compared to $8M in 2015. Already for 2019, the newspaper had cashed in on approximately $51.7M in ads from the government. It was further explained that DPI effects payments to the newspapers for advertisements as monies are received from the various government ministries that use DPI to book advertisements. It was noted that the majority of the ads placed by DPI are done so on behalf of ministries and not funded from the department’s budget. DPI therefore serves merely as a booking agent. There is a cyclical flow of payments and the accounts, from time to time, build up as a result of cash flow and other factors. These backlogs are cleared once funds are available and there is hardly ever a lengthy backlog of payments,” the DPI further explained. The DPI also noted that the privately-owned newspaper also receives large volumes of advertising from some government ministries, agencies and departments that do not book advertising through DPI. Upon receiving its payments, Stabroek News then wrote DPI advising that it will resume acceptance of orders for government ads, however, by that time, DPI said it had already begun to explore alternative avenues to placing state ads such as the use of digital media and radio advertising.

The issue of fairness and balanced reporting have also dogged the Robb Street-based news outfit, with the Ministry of the Presidency informing in a statement on Thursday that back in 2016, Stabroek News failed on many occasions to report on important national events and this was brought to the newspaper’s attention that it had taken note that the paper had not been reporting on important national events involving the Presidency. The ministry also observed that Stabroek News currently publishes weekly columns by the Presidential candidate of ANUG, Ralph Ramkarran and his executive member, Dr Henry Jeffrey “and while this is certainly within the paper’s purview, it is hypocritical to criticise the President on his stance for fairness and equitable reportage when the paper itself has not given equal opportunities to the other stakeholders.”

So, for Stabroek News now to be complaining about unfairness begs the question as to its real motive. Undoubtedly, since coming to office, President Granger has ensured the preservation of press freedom and even elevated the media the fourth estate to a higher plane that where it stood under the previous administration. His yearly interactions with the press and regular impromptu interviews and sidelines press conferences are testimony of the high regard he has both for the media and ensuring the public is well informed. Stabroek News’ grouse, however, though being camouflaged as that of advertisements placements runs much deeper and in time will be unmasked. President Granger, as was stated in the release, has always been and continues to be a strong advocate for a professional and free press. He has always demonstrated great respect and regard for the profession and for journalists. There is no doubt, as was stated in the release from the Ministry of the Presidency, that the President Granger administration is committed to non-interference in the independent media.

As we have stated in this column before, journalism is not a profession for the weak. It is selfless, noble and demanding. If the law is a jealous mistress, journalism is a mistress scorned.

In Guyana, no longer are journalists and media workers subject to physical and verbal attacks by government officials; journalists are not imprisoned in pursuit of their profession; journalists are not killed or maimed because what they print or broadcast do not meet the approval of political or other forces; media houses do not suffer from government-imposed advertising blackouts, are not targeted or shut down; state media are not used for vulgar propaganda or ethnic and political attacks; media workers are not subject to threats, bullyism, intimidation, victimisation or other forms of abuses.
Press freedom in Guyana today is at an all-time high. Never before has the press in Guyana been freer or with greater latitude to operate. No coalition government official has plummeted to the depths of branding media workers ‘vultures and carrion crows,’ nor has this government denied advertisements to any newspaper nor has it shut down any television station as, we know, had been the case under the previous administration. No journalist has been bused out or cussed down as was a regular occurrence not so long ago. Journalists in Guyana function with virtual impunity.

The environment is practically unrestricted and this imposes on the media itself the need to act with responsibility. For the most part, the gatekeepers of the media in Guyana have done so and understand their role in the daily efforts to inform, educate and entertain. There have been some troubling signs emerging, however. And these need to be red-flagged by the fraternity itself and addressed frontally in an effort to ensure that there is no internal and self-inflicted compromises in, and injuries to, the profession.