Accuracy, balance and opinion

Frankly Speaking... by A.A. Fenty
Stabroek News
October 13, 2000

Earlier this week, GECOM (that's our own Guyana Elections Commission), supported by CIDA (read Canadians - one of the indispensable "donors" who are all funding various aspects of the upcoming general elections in this independent nation), hosted a roundtable(?) to fashion a Code of Conduct which, optimistically, should govern or guide the work of media practitioners as they cover the polls in the periods before, during and after.

I recall the Commission debating quietly whether such a code should be "a voluntary code put in place by the media themselves; a formal code put in place by the Commission or a statutory regulatory authority". Initial thinking was that: "given that proposed constitutional amendments include a specific exclusion for "hate speech" and "racial incitement", the view was held that "it would be appropriate for the Elections Commission to put in place a Code of Conduct for the media". The thinking then was under such a Code, the Commission would publicly denounce unacceptable media content and would(?) refer its formal prosecution to be undertaken by the Office of the Director Public Prosecutions.

I'm not certain what the decision is with respect to the latter issue of prosecution, but I do understand that a representative number of experienced media managers, editors, writers and others gathered earlier this week and came up with a Code. I've read and studied it and I do feel that commendations are in order. The guideline document covers the ethical and professional considerations, which if observed, respected and practised by those concerned, can contribute to the avoidance of "ethnic tension and unnecessary political discord".

I suspect that, not wishing to be accused of any censorship tendencies, the group has stated that the acceptance of the Code is "on the clear and unqualified understanding that the government or any of its agencies - and the GECOM, will not impose, nor seek to impose any prior restraint or censorship on any publication by the media". I suppose this latter declaration is as necessary as it could be "curious". This CIVIC government has no tradition of censorship compared to bygone administrations, but it will be interesting to see how the commission itself, or the proposed Elections Monitoring and Refereeing panel deals with the errant, mischievous and evil media activists, after they have flouted the Code.

There is much substance for discussion arising out of this Code. These comments of commendation are just my initial foray into the debate, which might develop. I hope to be invited to the follow-up session that is planned to deal with such issues as specific guidelines for particular coverage; political broadcasts on radio and television; conduct of interviews, call-in, audience participation and other election-time programming. Oh, this ought to be rich - if not ground breaking.

In the Code, I note the repeated call for Accuracy and Balance, with accuracy requiring the "verification and presentation of all the facts pertinent ..." and balance requiring the presentation of all the main points of view or interpretations .. whether or not those views differ from those of the media operatives' own. But remember, even media people must be free to share opinion - as long as they make it clear that that is their thinking. Ambitiously and professionally, the Code requires media operatives to hold themselves independent and free of any control or direction from ... political parties, etc.

Huh? This will take some doing in this little hick town, Sirs. Tele-activists especially are openly partial to parties and causes; columnists express views in support of, or opposition to, and some media people here - masquerading as "professionals" are themselves half-baked politicians and/or activists! Others are potential Presidents, Prime Ministers or Members of Parliament who campaign via the electronic media. Or they allow their incendiary, racist "callers" to do their campaigning. I wish you luck, Code of Conduct. I know that your appearance and intent are in the interest of a trouble-free elections.

The last over
1) How unfortunate to see the President's youth choice initiative being tainted by allegations of improper use of government funds. Despite the charges led by the political businessmen and others, it is too noble a project to be scuttled.

2) But who ate all those pizzas? The thing is, - you can't even sue Mr Hoyte if he's proven false.

3) How do you deal with a man who chops a donkey to death because of the donkey's owner negligence? Or with a man who wishes to settle a contention by burning another?

5) Come, come now, friend Cassandra. Surely you appreciate effective understatement. In my time at the Information Ministry the past regimes would plant a loyal manager yes, but he or she would, most times, be a competent product of the profession. But still "a loyal kikuyu!"

6) Did anyone read this week's international magazine Business Week? Guyana Is First says: "A country that does not have secure borders cannot attract investment". No further comment now.

7) What does the ROAR organisation/party know of the RSS - Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh?

8) Enrico's Capitol News, on Wednesday evening, outdid its usual cynical presentation and style. In discussing Mr Hoyte's claim of Ghost voters, the news item began with a clip from the American movie "Ghost Busters"! But Enrico might be old enough to know when Jamaicans, Americans, Donkeys and the dead really voted - and were counted.

9) Coming soon in these columns: The commercialisation of Christ. 10) I sat enthralled by the "Caribbean/Entrepreneur 2000" TV show which showcased Caribbean manufacturing and development excellence. And we are busy contending over a dirty city and "displaced vendors". My Lord!


Follow the goings-on in Guyana
in Guyana Today