January 24, 1998
The discussion of media responsibility is not some abstract debate about principles that have no every day relevance. To put it bluntly, particularly in times of crisis, truly irresponsible reporting and the broadcasting of unchecked reports of violence and discrimination can lead to people being attacked and and harmed. It is then too late to say one is sorry.
The media must be bold and unafraid but they must also be professional in their approach to news. Reports must be checked before they are published, comments must be sought from those allegedly involved, every effort must be made to obtain a balanced picture. As the very famous editor of the Manchester Guardian, C.P. Scott, once said, comment is free, facts are sacred. You can give your opinion freely in your editorial columns but you have no freedom to tamper with the facts.
Attacks on journalists on political grounds or their exclusion from press conferences is unacceptable and strikes at the root of press freedom. On the other hand if a particular journalist is continually grossly irresponsible and biased in his reporting he cannot expect to have the easiest access to politicians. The line is sometimes a fine one and informed public opinion is the ultimate sanction one way or the other.
We welcome the involvement of Mr Hugh Cholmondeley in his recent meeting with the media in which he sought to promote the discussion of various issues. Mr Cholmondeley repeated some views which he had expressed some time ago in advice to the Minister of Information namely that the standards of television broadcasting left a great deal to be desired and that the enforcement of even minimal standards would lead to some stations being closed. Certainly in the recent elections many mature citizens were thoroughly alarmed by some of what they saw on their television screens. The inexperienced persons in charge seemed not to have the slightest concept of the disciplines of the profession they were meant to be practising. Mr Cholmondeley went as far as to say that irresponsible reporting could scuttle the Caricom accord.
We note that there is to be a follow up discussion between Mr Cholmondeley and selected representatives of the media to discuss the way forward in improving professional standards. We welcome this. The Guyana Press Association has not spoken out about recent unprofessional media reporting which we believe should be an integral part of its function. It should also be quick to react to attacks on any section of the media and discrimination of one kind or another. Hopefully, one of the benefits of Mr Cholmondeley's intervention will be a more active and committed Media Association which spans the unfortunate and unnecessary division that now exists with the Union of Guyana Journalists.