PM claims that US wants to damage image of Coalition Govt
US media censorship observation
BY EDWARD LAYNE
Just one day after Guyana Times reported that Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo was criticised by the
United States’ Department of State over his 2015 attempt to suppress Freedom of the Press, particularly in the state media, the government in a strongly worded statement rejected those claims.
US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 said while the government “generally respects the laws which provide for freedom of speech and press, there have been attempts by the administration to suppress freedom of the press.
Under the heading Censorship or Content Restrictions the report pointed to an attempt by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo to restrict and control the content of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle.
“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 the government. The prime minister also serves as minister of information,” the report noted.
However, in a brief statement Monday, Office of the Prime Minister’s Department of Public Information (DPI), while not making direct reference to the report said government was repudiating, “in the strongest terms irresponsible allegations repeated in the media alleging censorship in state media.”
“Such claims are wholly false and baseless and attempt to damage the image of the Coalition Government which is trying to repair democratic institutions, including state media which had been left in a shambolic state under the previous administration,” the statement said.
It argued that the coalition government has established independent and professional boards for major state media entities.
However, a close examination of the board of directors of the two main state media entities, Guyana Chronicle and the National Communications Network Incorporated are loaded with persons who are linked directly to the coalition government, including APNU/AFC candidates in the 2015 general and regional elections.
Also, the Government Information Agency (GINA) is headed by APNU/AFC candidate Beverly Alert.
“The Government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana reiterates its commitment to the free media that provides for national coverage that is not driven by partisan politics,” the statement added.
It said that for the first time in many years, state media have been carrying articles and reports critical of the government.
It added that for the first time, state media have been “providing extensive positive coverage to the opposition.”
However, many are of the view government’s actions, particularly those of Office of the Prime Minister, and the Director of Public Information Imran Khan contradict this declaration.
For example, Khan, during the 2016 Budget debates, declared on his facebook page that the GINA was only required to cover the affairs of the sitting Government.
Further, during the same debates, the Prime Minister, a trained journalist, who often portrays himself as a bastion of Press Freedom, reproached a young Guyana Chronicle reporter over an article which criticised the government.
The article headlined: “Gov’t blunders on Budget Estimates …violates laws assented to by President Granger” took the government to task after it was uncovered that budgetary estimates presented by Finance Minister Winston Jordan were done against two laws, which were passed under the David Granger Administration.
PM Nagamootoo, who once declared that the Guyana Chronicle should reflect nonpartisan views so as to objectively inform the public to make “wise decisions”, subsequently told reporters that “the Chronicle is a Government paper”, suggesting that all the reports must be subjective to the Government.
Nagamootoo’s Office later instructed the management of Guyana Chronicle that all headlines must be approved by Khan before the paper goes to press.
Sources close to that newspaper said up until this time, Khan still throws his weight around and issues directives to the publication, as well as the state-owned broadcaster, the National Communications Network (NCN) Incorporated, on a daily basis as to what its content should be, including instructions to limit the opposition access.
The Guyana Press Association (GPA) had criticised Nagamootoo for his “interaction” with the reporter, which it said could have been viewed as a method of intimidation, which may have a dampening effect on press freedom.
The GPA further stated, it regards the Prime Minister’s stated pro-government expectations of the publicly-funded Guyana Chronicle newspaper and presumably all State-owned media as “a retrograde, and intolerable step that betrays the governing Coalition’s campaign and post-election promises, not to engage in the same press freedom violations previous administrations were accused of.”
Reporters without Borders in its 2015 World Press Freedom Index ranked Guyana 62nd out of 180 countries.