At a time when concerns abound about the administration’s interference in the work of the press, governments across the world are being urged to encourage free and independent media on the observation of World Press Freedom Day.
The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that a free, independent and safe media environment is essential and for this reason, he remains very concerned about the increasingly restrictive environment which media workers in many countries have to endure.
He lamented too that even in this day, journalists are threatened, harassed, obstructed and even killed in the pursuit of information:
“Constraints on freedom of expression place shackles on progress itself. On this World Press Freedom Day, I urge all governments, politicians, businesses and citizens to commit to nurturing and protecting an independent, free media.
Without this fundamental right, people are less free and less empowered. With it, we can work together for a world of dignity and opportunity for all.”
In the context of Guyana, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has been criticised by the United States’ Department of State over his attempts to supress the media in 2015.
The records show that in August 2015, the prime minister issued a directive that all headlines in the state-owned print media be first scrutinised and approved by his office before they are published. The directive was a response to a headline criticising government.
Director of Public Information Imran Khan, during the 2016 Budget debates, declared on his Facebook page that the Government Information Agency (GINA) was only required to cover the affairs of the sitting government.
President David Granger later stated that GINA has a responsibility to provide coverage on all arms of government, including the legislative which includes the Parliamentary Opposition during National Assembly sittings.
Further, during the same debates, the PM who is also a trained journalist and who often portrays himself as a bastion of Press Freedom, reproached a young Guyana Chronicle reporter over an article which criticised the government.
The Guyana Press Association (GPA) had also only recently written government over concerns of political interference in the State–owned media.
In fact, the leaked letter singled out the prime minister and the director of Public Information as among government officials who continue to censor state media.
Nagamootoo has since refuted those claims.
Against this backdrop, the GPA in its message to the nation on this World Press Freedom Day, welcomed commitments by President Granger to ensure a conducive media environment especially in the publicly-funded Guyana Chronicle and National Communications Network (NCN) and GINA.
The GPA went on to urge journalists to take advantage of Guyana’s Access to Information regimen by putting it to the test to release major aspects of otherwise confidential decision-making by the government regardless of which party is in power.
“This will allow us as media practitioners to fulfil a major aspect of our role in imparting information to the wider public to aid them in rational decision-making that can collectively impact on the social, economic, political and cultural development of Guyana,” the GPA stated.
Meanwhile, the United Nations noted that this year, World Press Freedom Day coincided with three important milestones.
It is the 250th anniversary of the world’s first freedom of information law, covering both modern-day Sweden and Finland, and it is the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration of press freedom principles. Finally, 2016 is also the first year of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.
It noted that press freedom and the free flow of information are therefore necessary not only to inform citizens about the Goals, but to enable them to hold their leaders accountable for fulfilling the pledges they have made.
“The media – including, and increasingly, new online media – serve as our eyes and ears. We all benefit from the information they provide,” the UN Chief acknowledged.
Moreover, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) is asking that journalists issue tweets with the hashtag #wpfd2016 in an effort to call for access to public information.
In its list of suggested tweets, the IAPA is basically raising awareness on the need for transparency, accountability and free access to public information.