Mounting liabilities at GNNL influenced by past political interference

–EU EOM report shows Chronicle dedicated 83% elections coverage to APNU+AFC

INTERFERENCE by officials of the former A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition administration in the editorial direction of the Guyana Chronicle over the past five years has left the newspaper’s publisher, the Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL), inundated with current and potential liabilities of over $275 million.
A deviation from the editorial policy of the company was reportedly influenced by those politicians who had utilised the medium of information on national and international issues, as their personal public relations mechanism to execute their agenda, particularly during the impasse following the March 2, 2020, General and Regional Elections.

Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister, Kwame McCoy

The glaring bias in the Guyana Chronicle’s reporting during the electoral process was cited by the European Union (EU) Election Observer Mission (EOM) in its final report on Guyana’s General and Regional elections. The EU’s EOM conducted a quantitative and qualitative media monitoring of a sample of broadcast and print media. Based on the report, which was issued on June 5, 2020, the state-owned newspaper devoted 83 per cent of its news coverage to the former President David Granger; the former APNU+AFC administration and at the same time, offered considerable space to letters from persons critical of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).

Compared to the Guyana Chronicle, the privately owned Guyana Times newspaper dedicated 51 per cent coverage to the coalition and 47 per cent to the PPP/C, while coverage provided by both the Stabroek News and Kaieteur News – also private entities – was described by the EU’s EOM as “rather balanced.”
Considering the disparity between the state-owned media and the private media, the mission in its report recommended that the use of state resources for political campaigning be prohibited in order to create a level playing field.

“To support this measure, regulate the conduct and timeframe of the campaign based on consultations with all relevant stakeholders,” the mission suggested.
The contents of the EU’s EOM report have since been discussed with the President of Guyana, Dr. Irfaan Ali; Vice-President, Bharrat Jagdeo; Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon; Speaker of the House, Manzoor Nadir; Attorney-General, Anil Nandlall; Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hugh Todd; and Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Justice (ret’d) Claudette Singh.

Total news coverage for each newspaper (in cm²)

And, based on those discussions, the mission has determined that there is a “genuine interest” to consider their recommendations and broader electoral reforms. A multi-stakeholder meeting to discuss the report in greater detail is scheduled for Monday. However, even with there being progress in other areas, interference in the affairs of GNNL has left the company with a task of not only rebuilding the image of the newspaper, but also staying afloat by managing mounting liabilities created mainly by legal suits against GNNL.

It was reported that GNNL stands to sink even further into financial turmoil because of the past imprudent management of the company’s resources. Those actions, some of which were reportedly directly influenced by officials of the former APNU+AFC Coalition administration, have exposed GNNL to a slew of legal suits and losses, which continue to negatively impact the company’s ability to meet the demands of the staff and, by extension, customers.

Judgments have already been awarded against GNNL to the tune of over $50 million. Some of the judgments against GNNL include Yokohama Trading, whereby the court awarded $12.5 million; Pasha Global, whereby the court awarded $12.5 million; and Clifton Bacchus, with the court awarding $27.5 million. In these cases alone, GNNL was exposed to claims for over $6 billion.

Further, based on court documents, should the judgment in some of the pending cases be in favour of the plaintiffs, the company could suffer further losses of millions of dollars more.
The mounting liabilities, coupled with the effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, are not only restricting the company’s ability to provide salary increases and conduct other critical administrative work, but are also driving the entity to insolvency.

According to GNNL’s current Board of Directors, the company faces an uncertain future, adding that without intervention, the requisite capital expenditure to continue operations cannot be contemplated. Further, efforts are being made to monitor the legal claims, as well as other areas of impropriety, illegal spending and uncleared monetary advances taken by former general managers of the company.

Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister, Kwame McCoy, when contacted by the Sunday Chronicle, said management of the company is working through the adversities to ensure that employees remain away from the breadline.

“We have to continue to work this through to be able to make sure we save the workers… because many workers rely on the company to make a daily living and to earn a livelihood.
“We have skilled people and professionals and it is a task for us to make sure that the government, the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C), creates a pathway to the survival of the company and its workers,” Minister McCoy related.

The task at hand is no easy one, he said, noting, however, that the management of the company and Board of Directors have been examining the various options to be able to save the company.
Among the options being considered is the possibility of holding accountable those persons who were involved in the deterioration of the company’s image and its financial status.

“The options that are being examined is to possibly hold many of those who have been the authors in some cases, designers in some cases, executors in some cases of this folly in terms of using the newspaper to carry out the nasty type of journalism, reckless type of journalism,” Minister McCoy asserted.

With staff morale being low because of the financial status of the company, the management and Board of Directors will be looking to devise solutions expeditiously in order to create a better environment for growth and development of not just employees, but also the entire company.


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