State control of radio, other media puts a dampener on press freedom
Stabroek News
April 13, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Bemoaning the limitations on press freedom in Latin America, an editorial of the New York Times of April 4,2002, observed that "The ability of independent journalists to work without fear of intimidation is a reliable indicator of a democracy's health".

While journalists are not being killed in Guyana as they have been in Haiti and Columbia, the recent attack on Mr. Sharma is most worrisome. Charges of sedition against a well known journalist and threats of libel suits against television owners for airing the caustic views of certain journalists put a deadening chill on press freedom.

Democracy is severely stifled when the voices of journalists are tempered by the possibility of official reprisals. Equally pernicious is the denial of access to advertising dollars.

The continued control of the government of the only radio stations, a major daily and the best known television station has put a damper on the flowering of press freedom in Guyana. This substantial hegemony over media properties causes the journalist to be cautious, if not, deferential to government inefficiencies and malfeasance.

In a country polarized by racial politics, the situation is potentially explosive.

Evidence of economic and political domination of one major group over the other abounds. Without an effective outlet for their discontent for perceived and real wrongs, the articulate and knowledgeable among the suppressed group might become highly intolerant.

The fact that the operations of these properties are funded by the government and therefore, the people's money, makes the control more galling. Where equal access is openly denied to equally owned facilities, then the denied will become understandably frustrated.

Press freedom provides a bulwark against autocratic government. It also provides a mechanism for those out of power to have a say in the direction of society.

As we seek to create a tourist industry and encourage investors to develop the country's bounty, we must heed the editorial's warning " Governments need reminding that the outside world judges them in part by how they treat their internal critics".

Yours faithfully,

Derrick G. Arjune

Attorney- at- law

Editor's note

An advisory committee on broadcasting has been set up to deal among other things with the setting up of independent boards of directors for the state owned media. The government has also committed itself in principle to doing away with the state monopoly of radio. This is said to be waiting for new broadcasting legislation but such legislation has been pending for many years.