Talk-show hosts spewing racial hatred By Prem Misir
Guyana Chronicle
November 26, 2001

UNLIKE many countries experiencing transitional democracy, Guyana is one of the few that has an abundance of private media interspersed with the state media. The private media, particularly through talk-show hosts, play a daily role in attempting to influence the governing process in Guyana. Every day, the private media attempt to evaluate the Government’s performance, but this evaluation does not always comply with the norms of objectivity, accuracy, and fundamental fairness.

Private media
Talk-show hosts of the private media ilk may be quite fine, if their reporting is value-free and conform to some semblance of objectivity. But they are not.

As you relate to the broadcast, print, and electronic media each day, it is obvious that many private media houses, through these talk-show hosts, are driven by partisan political sentiments. In some ways, these private media houses place a higher priority on partisan political interests than on the national agenda.

Obnoxious talk-shows, say Communications Specialists
Caribbean Communications Specialists Dwight Whylie and Harry Mayers of the Independent Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel, commenting on Guyana’s media, indicated that talk shows have degenerated and were a ‘significant destabilising factor’ in the society.

They found one talk show to be obnoxious and his statements spurted out were lacking in evidence. Incredibly, this talk show claimed in his response that talk-show hosts do not have to provide evidence. Whylie pointed out that for any talk-show host to claim that it was not his/her responsibility to provide evidence, was sheer illiteracy, as all information has some foundation for truth. The notion of talk-show hosts not wanting to seek out the evidence, is dangerous and irresponsible, according to Whylie, and violates all codes of conduct in journalism.

Media Monitors Whylie and Mayers also criticised another for broadcasting several expletives on air. The Panelists believe that this broadcast violated the code of ethics in journalism. The independent Panelists confirmed that the information put out is ‘unsubstantiated allegation or accusation, much of it defamatory and likely to fan the flames of distrust, prejudice and discontent. In our view, this is grossly irresponsible in a fragile democracy and inimical to nation building.

Incitement to racial hatred-examples
Quite recently, one talk show host disseminated lies, saying that ethnic cleansing was effected against Africans at GECOM. This talk-show host retracted his statements. Again, not too long ago, the same talk-show host suggested that the PPP/C Administration effected an extraordinarily quick response to sealing the breach at the East Demerara Conservancy Dam at Cane Grove because most of the latter’s inhabitants, being East Indians, are PPP/C supporters. This type of insinuation is ludicrous and un-called for because the same kind of governmental response would be and has been activated regardless of people’s political loyalties and/or political affiliations. This Administration already has demonstrated quick responses in crisis situations in neighborhoods with high concentrations of Africans. Indeed, any person with an objective mindset will observe that such quick responses did occur and will continue to occur, regardless of people’s ethnic and racial types.

Codes of Ethics in broadcast journalism
Most Codes of Ethics in broadcast journalism require journalists to collect and report information of importance and interest to the public accurately, honestly, and impartially. Talk show hosts’ main purpose of presenting an opinion or commentary is to inform the public and help them to make judgements on the issues of the day. Talk show hosts’ opinions and commentaries must be held to the same standards of accuracy with regard to facts as news reports. Clearly, Codes of Ethics in journalism support Whylie’s position, that talk-show hosts in not providing evidence for their remarks, violated the public trust. Talk-show hosts need to be reminded that they do not own the electro-magnetic spectrum; the airwaves are a national asset, in that it is owned by the people.

The UN’s position on racial hatred and discrimination
We need to understand the implications of The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights which introduced the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), adopted and ratified in 1965. Guyana is a signatory to this Convention since 1977. The Convention says in part that Governments should:

“…condemn all propaganda and all organisations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form,… (a) Shall declare an offence punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons of another colour or ethnic origin,…”

The PPP/C Administration has legislation against racial hatred and racial discrimination. The Representation of the People’s Amendment Bill, No. 1 of 2001 of Guyana was introduced ‘to prohibit person/political parties to incite racial or ethnic violence or hatred’. Yet, quite frequently, we see a few talk-show hosts heaping mountains of verbal assaults on persons and groups, assaults that may be construed as racist, or as incitement to ethnic violence.

Indeed, the moment has arrived for legal prosecutions to be meted out against all violators through Guyana’s law against racial hatred and racial discrimination and Guyana’s signatory status to the UN CERD This type of legal action is consistent with a sustainable development of appropriate race and ethnic relations.

Deepavali has come and gone. But its significance in good triumphing over evil is really needed here. Let’s hope that the evil spewed out daily on talk-show programmes, will be unable to withstand the might of good emanating from Deepavali.