…GNBA denies any restrictions on freedom of expression
—says Reporters Without Borders assessment of Guyana inaccurate
THE Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) has raised concerns about several statements which seem to suggest that the authority had embarked on a course of conduct aimed at depriving the media the right to freedom of expression which is guaranteed by Article 146 of the Constitution.
“I would not pretend that I do not understand that in these exciting times of oil discovery and motions being filed there would be no doubt, speculation and political manoeuvres,” said GNBA Chairman, Leslie Sobers, during an interview with the Guyana Chronicle on Friday.
Sobers gave the assurance that the GNBA has no partisan role or partisan interest; instead, their interest is rooted in the provisions of the Broadcasting Act.
The chairman’s contention was primarily based on an article carried by the Guyana Times which had information from a report which was published by Reporters Without Borders.
The report was setting out an index of countries that can be regarded as allowing freedom of expression. Guyana moved from 55 to 51 on the index.
Despite the positive shift on the index, he said the rest of the article suggested that at present, there is a regulatory body for the media that sets out to deprive media operatives the right to freedom of expression and prosecute them if they make utterances against the government.
“Reporters Without Borders did not do their homework properly to ascertain whether their information on Guyana was correct… it was pre-2011 information,” lamented Sobers.
He believes that their perception and basis were rehashed instead of portraying a more current image of the system.
At present, there is only one media regulatory body in Guyana and none of what was said in the article reflects what the GNBA does, he said.
“There were even broadcasters who followed up on that report to suggest that the GNBA is interfering with persons’ rights to freedom of expression,” said Sobers.
Part of the report stated that Guyana employed a Defamation Act to stifle journalists. The GNBA said this is not true.
“There is an Act to protect citizens and nowhere in this world can freedom of expression be held to be exercised properly if persons can freely tarnish the reputation of others,” Sobers argued.
Guyana, like other countries, is guided by a similar act and if that Act is denying persons the right to freedom of expression, then so are Canada, US and Australia because they have enacted similar provisions to protect their people.
“We have another Act called the Summary Jurisdiction Offences Act and Section 141 of that Act Chapter 802 sets out things that people ought not to do to offend their neighbours,” said Sobers.
In that regard, he contended that there will always be restrictions to how people exercise their freedom.
The GNBA chairman challenged Reporters Without Borders to show an instance where any journalist was put before the court for reporting anything against the government.
“Today, GNBA has systems set up and ratified by the board to examine what our broadcasters do before we arrive at any suspension of licences. We have the monitoring department and when they see certain infractions it is reported and it goes to the special investigative committee… the broadcasters are called in and then they have the opportunity to refute it.”
“We do not go fault hunting, but if you commit an infraction we will deal with it… the citizens of Guyana also monitor,” said Sobers.
The GNBA intends on institutionalising the idea of citizen monitors since a citizen can write or call in to report a matter to the GNBA.
“We will also be working out a research department which will survey listenership, quality of programmes, content analysis, levels of infractions and so forth,” said Sobers.
He remained hopeful that his contentions would dispel negative information which seem to have political undertones.
“GNBA has no political agenda”, said the GNBA chairman, adding that the authority is not a partisan entity.