GHRA urges media to do more effective self-regulation

Stabroek News
March 18, 2001

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is calling on the media to establish more effective forms of self-regulation, or risk controls being imposed from outside the profession.

In a seven-page commentary issued on Friday on the Media Code of Conduct, the GHRA states "the genie is out of the bag with respect to the use of television for propagandistic purposes, unrestrained by law, morals or responsibility."

Without effective intervention from without or within, "the current lawless use of television media will expand with devastating consequences for the society as a whole."

The GHRA points out that the cases of Rwanda, Kosovo and other ethnically-divided societies cannot be ignored here, neither by the society as a whole nor by the media.

The human rights body proposes that strengthening the media code of conduct provides a framework through which this process of self-regulation can be developed.

Since criticisms by the two international media monitoring teams in Guyana has had zero impact on the talk show hosts to date, the GHRA observes, success in moderating the inflammatory behaviour of the few is not guaranteed by censure from their peers.

However, the release states, more purposeful attempts to rein them in will re-assure the society that some voices in the media are prepared to put principle before popularity.

"Self-interest alone should dictate that mainstream journalists repudiate the political propagandists who are dragging the profession as a whole into the orbit of incitement," the GHRA contends.

The release notes too that several issues are identified in the commentary which an expanded code should address, including the issue of "hate speech."

Traditionally, "hate speech" laws were understood primarily as protecting public order, but in recent times they have frequently been motivated by a desire to promote respect for human dignity and equality of opportunity, and to eliminate discrimination.

The GHRA states that in comparison with hate speech laws in general, the Guyana law is wide-ranging, particularly in the phrase "any action which ....can result in racial or ethnic violence or hatred among the people" being liable to a fine of $100,000 plus two years imprisonment.

Moreover, the release notes, legal action may be taken under the Representation of the Peoples' Act without having to meet the stringent conditions required to justify restrictions on grounds of public order.

The GHRA says "if the practical effect of the broadly written clause is to encourage the exercise of greater care and caution, particularly among politicians and the media, this is all to the good in the current situation of Guyana, although catch-all phrases in laws which carry severe penalties are not to be encouraged."

Focusing on the issue of state ownership, the GHRA argues for retention of the state media. Although media ownership is inexorably accumulating in few hands, media magnates foster the illusion that free-market competitiveness has strengthened pluralism, the GHRA contends.

"Freedom of expression, in these conditions, is more at risk from the market than from the State regulation. In reality, state regulation by a government which respects the law may be the only effective method of protecting freedom of expression."

The GHRA holds the position that "freedom of information, freedom of expression and the free flow of information - the issues which determine the quality and direction of the media - suggest the need for more state regulation of the media, not less."