Political parties vying for power at the March 2 polls have submitted their lists of candidates and as the country inches closer to E-Day, the level of interest being shown in these eagerly-anticipated elections by many, especially young people, is increasing. This is evident with the high level of interaction seen amongst citizens and even between candidates themselves on various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter etc.
With certain contentious issues yet to be sorted out regarding arriving at a clean, acceptable voters’ list, and barring a few other statutory matters, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has stated that it is well on track to deliver free and credible elections which could withstand international scrutiny. In fact, just before Nomination Day proceedings commenced on Friday at the Umana Yana, the Chairman of GECOM gave all assurances that all systems are in place to ensure that the elections are credible as this is the main concern of all stakeholders.
However, while GECOM’s role is crucial in this entire process, the roles of other stakeholders can never be underestimated. Everyone, including the politicians, the media, international and local observers and citizens themselves, must play their part in ensuring that the elections are held in a peaceful and fair manner and the country returns to normalcy once the results of the election are announced.
For example, the role of the media can never be underestimated in this process of building and maintaining a peaceful and democratic society. In their efforts to provide real-time information using different social media platforms etc, the media must always seek to ensure that they behave in a responsible manner as the slightest lapse could result in an uproar.
During elections periods, sections of the media here have oftentimes come under the microscope for stepping out of the ‘boundary lines’. While some media outlets are known to make genuine efforts to raise their level of performances, one gets the impression that others operate as though they have a political agenda to carry out since it is clear that they report the news in a partisan manner, sometimes to the extent of being mischievous.
Previously, the local media fraternity had signed on to a Media Code of Conduct (MCC) with the aim of using the document not only as a guide for elections reporting, but as a tool to improve general media standards year-round. Representatives of the State-run and private-owned media had given a commitment openly that they would use it (the Code) as a means of self-regulation so as to improve what currently obtains in the media.
Section 4 of the MCC clearly states: “The Media, in accepting the principle of ‘accuracy and balance’ in reporting, particularly during periods of campaigning for elections, acknowledge that these two main characteristics (accuracy and balance) seek to distinguish good journalism from bad, and journalism from propaganda”. It adds: “Accuracy requires the verification (to the fullest extent possible) and presentation of all facts that are pertinent and necessary to understand a particular event or issue, even if some of the facts conflict with a journalist’s, or a broadcaster’s particular beliefs and feelings”; “Balance, or impartiality, requires the presentation of all the main points of view or interpretations of an event or an issue, regardless of whether the journalist, reporter, broadcaster, editor or the audience agrees with these views.”
For journalists, the Code provides a benchmark against which their output and activities can be judged by others, as well as guidance for them about acceptable methods of gathering and presenting information. And for the public, it provides a guarantee that the material they receive is a genuine reflection of the truth, based on information gathered fairly and thoroughly checked by those who present the information.
Our hope is that in this politically-charged environment, all stakeholders, including the politicians, media practitioners and commentators etc would be extremely cautious about what they publish. They should always exercise proper editorial judgement on all matters before they are published, especially if such matters relate to sensitive issues such as race, religion, politics, elections etc. If the content is found to be offensive, degrading, bias, untrue, inciting or racist they should be edited out in the interest of the public. The MCC was an extremely useful initiative in this regard.