Home Letters Broadcast coverage for General and Regional Elections
A general election would be neither free nor fair if a contesting party is unfairly denied access to the broadcast media in comparison with another or a particular party is favoured access to the broadcast media, whether publicly or privately owned.
In the case where there is State-owned and operated broadcast media such as NCN in Guyana, it is a generally accepted international principle that the contesting parties represented in Parliament are allocated a fixed percentage of free election broadcasting time in accordance with their representation in Parliament and that newly contesting parties unrepresented in Parliament are given a reasonable amount of free broadcasting time by the nationally owned and operated broadcast media.
Party political broadcast within an election period should be specifically regulated to ensure balance, access and fairness, preferably directed by the Elections Commission. Unfortunately, that is not now happening.
Already, we have the case of the National Communications Network (NCN) using its facilities to provide totally biased coverage of the major rallies held by APNU/AFC and the PPP/C in favour of APNU/AFC and the Chairman of NCN, Mr Enrico Woolford, seeking to justify this by claiming that network streaming is not broadcasting.
A letter in yesterday’s Stabroek News, January 13, 2020, from Tony Vieira quite properly points out the share hypocrisy of Mr Woolford’s position. Mr Woolford seeks to misinterpret the fact that telecommunications technology includes broadcasting and to take advantage of the challenge presented by the convergence of broadcast and telecommunications technology to regulators. Television and radio broadcast and voice telephony can now be transmitted over the internet but it is still broadcasting and, in this case, the issue is content and standard, not technical.
Albeit the current Broadcasting Legislation governing the functions of our National Broadcasting Authority is wholly inadequate and ultimately provides for complete control of the Authority by the Minister responsible for broadcasting. If, however, the current Chairman of the Broadcasting Authority, Mr Leslie Sobers, is serious about his responsibility with regard to the conduct of a free and fair election, he should immediately put a stop to the unreserved bias in content coverage in favour of the governing party being exercised by NCN.
I also urge that the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission take an immediate interest in addressing the critical matter of fair and balanced broadcasting coverage and content of these elections by both the nationally and privately owned licenced broadcast media.
I am aware that the myriad of consultants readily provided by the American, British and Canadian Governments and Commonwealth to assist GECOM in ensuring free and fair elections are now in place. I encourage them to pay more than ordinary attention to the broadcast coverage of the elections. Needless to say, the political bias practised by the Guyana Chronicle, owned and operated by the Government, is beyond repair in spite of President Granger’s declared commitment to press freedom.