Opposition parties want state media privatised or independent boards set up

Stabroek News
April 30, 2001

The parliamentary opposition parties would like to see the state media organisations run by independent boards of directors in the interest of the nation or privatised.

They were reacting to the agreement reached between President Bharrat Jagdeo and PNC REFORM (PNC/R) leader Desmond Hoyte during a meeting on Wednesday last to empanel a committee to examine the issue of non-partisan boards of directors for the state-owned media and of the state monopoly of radio.

The State media were heavily criticised over their coverage of the government and opposition parties, which the Media Monitoring Unit (MMU) of the Elections Commission and the Independent Media Monitoring Unit (IMMU) described as heavily biased in favour of the government.

The government defended its use of the State media saying that it has the responsibility for informing the public of the developments taking place in the country. It also argued that there were channels accessible to the opposition, which were used to attack its record.

Hoyte told Stabroek News yesterday that in the absence of privatisation of the State media, the PNC/R would like to see them run by independent boards which would set policy guidelines and would monitor their coverage to ensure objectivity and balance.

Eusi Kwayana of the Guyana Action Party/Working People's Alliance told Stabroek News that what was needed was a policy which removed control of the media organisations from a government minister and gave it to independent boards. Those boards, he posited, would run the media organisations in the nation's interests and that those interests would include the interests of the government and the opposition parties.

Kwayana said that he would like to see the boards set guidelines governing the relationship between the particular media and the public, particularly guaranteeing the public's right of reply.

The veteran political activist said that while he had some reservations about privatisation, he feels that some level of public ownership of the media was necessary with the government holding a majority of the shares. The infusion of equity capital through this form of privatisation, he said, would relieve the government of some of the financial burden.

Such a step should be as a result of a commitment to the constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of expression and the independence of the media.

About the management of the media, Kwayana said this should be in the hands of people with relevant skills and a commitment to professionalism.

Kwayana would see in such an arrangement the government having the right to intervene and to clarify issues where necessary provided always that there is the right of reply by the people to any minister or government functionary.

The coverage of events by these media organisations would be required to be completely impartial especially their reportage of parliamentary proceedings.

He sees too the government having some medium through which it would inform the people of developments across the country.

For The United Force leader, Manzoor Nadir, an independent media and judiciary were necessary in a society, which wants to embrace dialogue as the principal medium for resolving its differences. The solution, he said, is the absence of state control of media organisations like the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation, the Guyana National Newspapers Limited and the Guyana Television Broadcasting Company. He concedes, however, that the government should have a medium for communicating its viewpoint to the public but believes that "we should take a chance in getting the State out of the media."

He concedes too that a privatised media could turn out to be anti-government but "feels that it is a small price to pay in an effective democracy"

With the privatisation of the media, Nadir recommends the establishment of a National Communications Commission, which would address the ethical functioning of the media and revamping of the laws of libel so that persons libelled could have speedy redress.

Ravi Dev, the leader of the ROAR Guyana Movement, agrees with Nadir that the state media should be privatised. Like Nadir and Kwayana too, he believes that the government should identify some other method of getting its message across to the public, pointing to criticisms by the MMU and IMMU which described the State media as being supportive of the government during the campaign for the March 19, elections.

Dev contended that because the society was so politicised it would be difficult to constitute boards that would have the confidence of all sections of the society.

However, unlike Nadir, Dev sees President Jagdeo's accommodation of Hoyte's demands as setting a dangerous precedent. Likening the meeting between the two as one between a President and a warlord, he said that it could encourage extra-parliamentary measures in the face of the intransigence of the government.