More must be done to preserve viability of independent media – GPA

World Press Freedom Day

…Govt recommits to doing more to ensure press freedom

With May 3 marking World Press Freedom Day, messages lauding the achievements and work done by the fourth estate have been pouring in. The Nazima Raghubir-led Guyana Press Association (GPA), in its message also highlighted some of the challenges the press faces.

GPA President Nazima Raghubir

On Monday, the GPA noted that the media has an important role as the disseminators of information to serve the public interest. This is particularly so in the current COVID-19 pandemic, when the public depends on the press to provide accurate information.
“This task has become most important in the period of the pandemic when the public depends on journalists to provide accurate information to counter not only the anti-vaxxers but also those who churn out misinformation and disinformation,” the GPA said in its statement.
“States like Guyana have a critical role to facilitate this public good to the wider public. In this regard, the Guyana Press Association (GPA) urges the Guyana Government to create a greater public awareness about the access to information mechanism so that not only journalists but the wider public can maximise its use.”
The GPA also urged the Government to create greater public awareness about the access to information mechanism. Additionally, they called on the political parties to make themselves more available for interviews and to review the Cyber Crime Act to remove clauses that restrict free speech.

Public Affairs Minister Kwame McCoy

“We want to take this opportunity to request that the Government as well as the Opposition review the Cyber Crime Act with the intent to remove any clauses that restrict the freedom of expression. We feel that any restriction on freedom of expression and the freedom to receive and impart information opens the door to abuse by officialdom,” the GPA said in their statement.
“Finally, if freedom of expression is to be the source of a meaningful public good, the State, the business community and the practitioners must see themselves as being inextricably linked to the cause for the benefit of all. The GPA also calls on political parties, State or otherwise to ensure all media have timely and adequate access for interviews as well as press engagements.”
Nevertheless, the press agency also had some words of advice for media practitioners. Among the GPA’s recommendations was that media entities be mindful of their content and ethics surrounding reporting on sensitive issues.
“In an age when some media practitioners are driven merely by a few lines to catch social media eyes, we have to be more aware of the information we put in the public domain. We have to [be] respectful of persons faced with trauma, our treatment of victims of sexual assault, abuse and human trafficking and most importantly understand our role in the protection of minors and how they are portrayed in the stories we write.”

Govt recommits
Meanwhile, Public Affairs Minister within the Office of Prime Minister, Kwame McCoy also on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day made it clear that President Dr Irfaan Ali is committed to his manifesto promise of ensuring press freedom.
He said the Government is planning to do its part to build capacity within the public and private media, including the establishment of a broadcast academy. And when it comes to increasing access to information, McCoy said that the Government will restore the functionality of the constitutional office of Commissioner of Information.
“In fact, it was the PPP/Civic Government that created the first-ever constitutional office of ‘Commissioner of Information’ which allowed for free public access to all State information. This office was dismantled by the Granger-led coalition Government in its first few months, a travesty which President Ali is committed to reversing and restoring shortly.”
McCoy also recalled developments after the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) took office, such as the appointment of Directors of Public Affairs and Digital Infrastructure and Online Engagement. Their mandates include managing an open platform for information sharing of Government content.
“Training of new journalists and broadcasters, including women, for absorption across both the public and private media spectrums will be undertaken. Capacity building through industry training and international scholarships, including for online work, are being facilitated for direct benefit to members of Guyanese media fraternity and indeed all Guyanese,” he said, referring to the Guyana Online Academy of Learning (GOAL) initiative.
He noted that a Broadcast Academy will be established, to facilitate world-class industry professional training and exposure for current and new broadcasters. “…the Government is facilitating full access to the free press on a regular basis on State matters and those related to the COVID 19 pandemic and has already taken steps to strengthen relations and build capacity with the Guyana Press Association.”
McCoy took the opportunity to salute all professional media workers in good standing, particularly media veterans and stalwarts with 30 years and over of diligent, exemplary service in disseminating information for the public good.