State owned media

Stabroek News
May 10, 2001

The management of State owned media and the State radio monopoly are to be the subject of review by a committee to be set up as a result of the dialogue between President Bharrat Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte. The committee will also consider broadcasting legislation and the operations of the National Frequency Management Unit.

The problem of state owned media was acute in the Burnham era when the state had a virtual media monopoly. Lead stories sometimes read like government or party press releases in the style of Pravda and Izvestia, opposition politicians became non persons and to get some idea of what was going on one had to read the Catholic Standard, Dayclean, Liberator, Vanguard or any other samizdat that was available from time to time. Guyana was known in the region as an apostate from professional media standards.

With the return of private media from l986 onwards and competition, except in radio, the situation improved. The Chronicle is a better paper than it used to be, GTV is competitive. But interference from state functionaries continues at various levels and the problem becomes acute at election time, as it did recently.

What can or should be done? The state media could be sold and the state could get out of the media business and rely purely on a revitalised ministry of information to do the job of publicising the business of government through press conferences, press releases, special features and other mechanisms. The PPP/C Government has always been understandably sensitive about this option because of the role played by the private media in the sixties to destabilise it and get it out of power. It has always felt that it needs its own media to ensure its case is put forward adequately.

The alternative is to retain the state media (breaking the radio monopoly) while seeking to ensure that there is no political interference with the editors of the Chronicle, GBC and GTV. The problem is how to achieve this.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a successful model of non-partisan state ownership that everyone is aware of. To achieve something along these lines what would be needed, in essence, is a law defining the role of the state media and giving them some sort of autonomy and protection from interference within that framework. Then, editors would be protected by law from interference from the ruling party while having a broad mandate to cover the news of the day fairly and professionally. It would help to get a copy of the BBC's charter and to get more information on how that operation has worked in practice and how the editors and reporters and the Board of Directors have dealt with any attempted political interferance.

State media should also have a special role to promulgate culture and the BBC's Third Programme was the outstanding example of that.

As for modern broadcasting legislation, that is long overdue. We have the unique situation of persons having been allowed to start television stations with absolutely no concept of what that normally involves and no commitment to standards of any kind. The results are well known.

The professionals in the state media would, we believe, themselves welcome protection from political interference and the radio station would benefit from competition as the other state media clearly have.