Independent media monitors recommend refining code of conduct, training
Urge end of radio monopoly

Guyana Chronicle
March 29, 2001

In the heat of the elections, the government used state-controlled media to spread its propaganda and was met by a counterblitz of rumour, defamation and seditious and racist comment from some talk-show hosts.

This is the conclusion of the Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel in its final report on media coverage of the elections, titled: 'A case of dangerous extremes'. The two panellists, Dwight Whylie and Harry Mayers, have recommended that the roundtable which formulated the Media Code of Conduct be reconvened to review the media's performance and to examine ways forward. They also strongly recommend training for media personnel.

The panel noted that GTV, in the weeks approaching the elections, introduced a number of other soft-sell interview programmes, said to be sponsored by various unidentified "'friends', but clearly promoting the PPP/C government, the president and other ministers."

They also observed that the number of campaign advertisements broke all acceptable standards with a typical 40-minute period containing 22 election-related commercials and "absolutely no programming."

Much of the same criticisms are directed at the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation and the state-controlled Guyana Chronicle, said to have had an "overt editorial bias for the PPP/C and against opposition parties. This is reflected in news coverage; in the frequency, subjects and tone of letters to the editor; and in the comments and slants of its columnists."

The panel noted with the same alarm the talk-show hosts and in response to a complaint, reviewed Basil Bradshaw's programme for Thursday March 15 where a caller threatened to "burn down the whole place" and start beating Indians if the PPP/C won the election or the police "touch me or my family." Bradshaw, according to the panel, failed to "stop the caller and counsel him not to take the law into his own hands and advise him that his comments amounted to sedition, racial incitement and the uttering of threats."

The Stabroek News came in for praise as in daily terms it was "the only source of a comprehensive and well-balanced spectrum of news and opinion.

"Its editorials advised sober examination of issues, gave praise and criticism without fear or favour and conscientiously sought and achieved balance and fair comment."

The panel recommended the following steps:

* refinement of the Media Code of Conduct into a permanent, binding professional code applicable to local media, print and electronic, public and privately owned;

* passage of a Copyright Act;

* establishment of a Broadcast and Cable System Authority and monitoring agency with a system of penalties;

* ending the state monopoly in radio;

· establishing an arms-length relationship between the government and the state-owned media, print and electronic, to ensure autonomy and unbiased service without fear or favour for all the people, regardless of political affiliation.