Media and party politics

Guyana Chronicle
February 11, 2001

There seems to be a not so clever effort on the part of the People's National Congress to interpret a ruling of Justice Claudette Singh in a self-serving manner to attack the public sector media and the Chronicle newspapers in particular.

The latest example came a few days ago when the PNC General Secretary, Oscar Clarke, launched a broadside against the Chronicle's coverage of the PPP/Civic rally on Sunday.

The personal attack on the Editor-in-Chief and clear attempt to intimidate the Chronicle deliberately ignored an explanation earlier offered about the coverage provided for the PNC/Reform rally.

Also conveniently ignored was the extensive coverage provided by the 'Stabroek News' for the launch of the PNC/Reform campaign, compared to that given the PPP/Civic's rally at Kitty.

But we are persuaded that the 'Stabroek News' will also have an explanation for its different treatment of both political events, and we will not be pushed into any rivalry or unhealthy competition in the coverage of events and activities of either the PPP/Civic or the PNC/Reform.

Private Sector Media
We cannot speak for the other public sector media, but we would be surprised if they also do not resist pressures at intimidation while making every effort to provide fair coverage within the limits of their own resources.

For the public sector media to allow themselves to be cowed by pressure-cooker tactics from any political party while sections of the private sector media remain contemptuous of ethical principles, basic rules of fairness and, worse, engage in vulgar slander and incitement, will be to do a disservice to the media profession and the country.

In this context, it needs to be emphasised that while we do appreciate the efforts of the Elections Commission Monitoring Unit and gladly welcome the functioning of the Independent Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel, there must be a distinction in the coverage provided the government of the day and that of a political party.

In evaluating, therefore, what constitutes "balanced" coverage of the events and activities of the political parties, it would be a serious error of judgement for monitors to focus on perceived deficiencies in the public sector media merely to strike their own concept of "balance" when reporting on the often blatant shortcomings by the private sector media--electronic and print.

New Dispensation
Happily for the journalism profession, the Guyanese electorate for the March 19 elections and the nation as a whole, the doctrine of "party paramountcy" that had so crippled the media and freedom of statement during the long rule of the PNC, was put to rest with the 1992 elections.

It is because of the new political dispensation that, regrettably, there is so much abuse of press freedom and freedom of statement.

In this new climate, the PNC feels free to further exploit a situation for its own advantage, having done so much harm in government against fundamental freedoms.

The people who comprise the Elections Commission, from both parties, as well as its chairman, the international donor agencies and the media monitors themselves would know the extent to which freedom thrives in Guyana today, compared to what obtained under successive regimes of the PNC.

That is why we must view with some amusement, not fear, the claims by the PNC General Secretary in his letter to the Chronicle, and in particular his appeal to the people, that "their media, our media, as a public entity be held to the highest standards of fairness, objectivity and balance..."

Was this bit of sophistry really directed at this newspaper, its editors, or just another clever ploy intended for the media monitors?

Whatever the intent, as well as the more than implied threat against the Editor-in-Chief, the Chronicle will strive to abide with the code of ethics to which it subscribes.

It will also report, as necessary, on the threats, slander, and mischievous politics of all parties, and that of their cohorts of the "private" media who so arrogantly flaunt themselves on the viewing public in total disregard for any code of ethics or monitors.

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