PM office confirms weekly State media briefings, denies interference
Censorship of State media
– baffled by stance of the GPA to write President Granger
BY EDWARD LAYNE
As confusion continues to rage over allegations Government ministers and other officials, including Prime
Minister Moses Nagamootoo and Director of Public Information (DPI) Imran Khan constant meddling in the works of the state media entities, the Office of the Prime Minister on Monday came out swinging at the Guyana Press Association (GPA) which has written on the matter.
The GPA in a recent letter to the President but leaked to sections of the media, singled out PM Nagamootoo and Khan as among government officials who continue to censor state media.
But, the statement issued under the letterhead of the DPI said the “Government of Guyana” was “baffled by the stance of the GPA to write to the President to “politically intervene” in matters that ought to have been raised with the competent board of directors of the respective state entities.
The GPA in its letter informed President Granger that the Prime Minister himself issues directives to the managers of the state media entities on a weekly basis.
“It is our understanding that the Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, hosts a weekly meeting at which clear
directives are given to the state media (also the Government Information Agency) regarding propaganda to be dispensed by these agencies,” the letter stated.
It continued that the GPA is of the view such meetings not only bear the hallmarks of government interference in the work of state media, “but also constitute a grave act of intimidation into slavishly following the dictates of the executive government.”
Regarding Khan’s role, the GPA said there have been “numerous” instances where Khan “has either sought to dictate content of NCN and the Guyana Chronicle, and in some cases even having content removed.”
He is also accused of chastising state media employees, which the GPA said “clearly amounts to acts of intimidation and causes these state media workers to practice self-censorship.”
The GPA in its missive also cited instances where other government ministers and officials have been interfering in the work of the state media.
It also complained that the board of directors of NCN and the Guyana Chronicle “deeply involved” in making editorial decisions, including deciding who should attend overseas training programmes and assignments.
However, a Monday afternoon statement issued by the DPI denied the allegations of the GPA.
The DPI acknowledged that the Prime Minister meets on a weekly basis with state media personnel, but said there have not been any complaints of intimidation at those meetings.
“Government of Guyana strongly refutes that the state media personnel are intimidated during the Prime Minister’s weekly meetings. The Office of the Prime Minister has received no complaints from the Board of Directors or management of any state media entity of intimidation or interference. No member of the Guyana Press Association attending these meetings has made any objections,” the statement said.
It explained that the “periodic meetings” with state media heads focus on coordination of schedule of Government events and coverage of same, which it said is a practice in place since 1992 and clarification of information regarding government’s policy on a number of matters.
“State media attendees have all commented on the usefulness of the engagement,” it added.
It said that “reactions” by government officials regarding positive, negative, limited or one-sided coverage of government business in both the state and private media is route and does not amount to interference.
The statement added that while it is fit for the GPA to advise its members to act professionally and to defend standards of journalism, for the GPA to call on the Executive to ‘manners’ his ministers on “unsubstantiated allegations” is another matter.“The Guyana Government reaffirms its commitment to an open, free and plural media. It is indeed refreshing to witness the re-introduction, in state media, of positive coverage of opposition views and activities and access to the state media by persons who are routinely critical of Government. Press freedom is alive and well in Guyana,” the statement said.
The government, particularly Nagamootoo and Khan, have been in recent times constantly called out for their alleged censorship of state media, allegations they constantly deny.
These allegations have come on the heels of a United States Department of State’s 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices which scolded the Prime Minister who in August, 2015 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 PM was also criticised by two local newspaper columnists, Dr David Hinds and Freddy Kissoon over censorship of state media.
Notably, while in opposition, the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) had chastised the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration over abuse of the state media and promised that once it gained political power it will make these entities independent.
But many senior media operatives say they are still to see any signs of the government moving to free-up state media so that the views of all, including those who are critical of the administration, find its way on the NCN airwaves or on the pages of the Guyana Chronicle.