Talk-show hosts' irresponsibility incendiary
-Media Monitors final report
Stations urged to cease programming of this kind
March 31, 2001
The Media Monitoring Unit (MMU) has concluded that the Media Code of
Conduct failed to influence the media and that the talk-show hosts "pushed
the limits of irresponsibility to dangerous and incendiary levels."
In its final report for the Elections Commission on the media coverage of the election, the MMU inevitably devoted much time to the talk-show hosts, in particular Mark Benschop. In recalling Benschop's almost 24-hour show starting on March 19 (polling day), the MMU stated "...Mr Benschop again took to the air for the rest of the evening and into early morning. By this time Mr Benschop's rhetoric was approaching the hysterical. He urged peace 'for the time being' yet played songs about war and showed a clip of military aircraft storming a beach. He said he is prepared 'to stay and battle.' Later in the evening Mr Benschop spoke of revolution as the way to go. 'A revolution is good,' stated Benschop. 'We have to have a revolution to move things forward.' He also continued his practice of attacking specific individuals with defamatory charges with absolutely no evidence to back up his alarming claims....
"On Tuesday. . . Mr Benschop's rhetoric became frantic and alarming... He was increasingly bent on inciting viewers and callers to take matters into their own hands. Indeed Mr Benschop's discussion of revolution came when approximately ten per cent of the votes had been counted and announced. "There is virtually no paragraph in the Media Code of Conduct [he has] left intact.
"Also on March 20, Channel 9 continued to air provocative programming including the regular show, 'The Message of An Oracle of God', with Hubert Alexander. The host filled his show with a frantic polemic that sought to justify war and bloodshed based on the teachings of the Bible. He endorsed Benschop's previous calls for an interim government. He claimed, 'I am giving warning on behalf of God... Don't stand in my way.'"
The report concluded that the time had come for Channel 9 and others to bear responsibility for these massive breaches of the code. "We call on them to restore sanity and responsibility to their television station and cease the broadcasting of programming that undermines the election process."
The MMU also noted that "the state controlled media badly serves the Guyanese public. Rather than offering citizens objective and balanced information, they serve admittedly as a mouthpiece for the government and an advocate for the ruling party the PPP/C.
"Some of the private media also offered unbalanced coverage of the elections. It must be noted however that the Stabroek News offered balanced and relatively comprehensive coverage of the contesting parties to the election." The MMU called for a reconvening of the Media Round table and additional means to be considered to censure irresponsible behaviour. "In this regard we also point out the urgent need to enact new broadcast legislation that would ensure that those who use our airwaves are held to certain standards of community service and professional behaviour."
The unit will stay on for another month to prepare a review of the whole election period. It is hoped that the trained personnel and equipment will be adopted by a non governmental organisation, and could continue to monitor the local media.