Media lawlessness VIEWPOINT
By Dr Prem Misir
Guyana Chronicle
April 25, 2002

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TELIVISION talk show hosts are constantly abusing the airwaves. They are continuously violating the terms and conditions for use of the electromagnetic spectrum. This spectrum is a scarce national resource of Guyana, and is not owned by any individual talk show host, television station, or other agency. The licensee, invariably the owner of the television station, agrees to comply with the terms and conditions of the spectrum. The spectrum is issued under license by the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU.

Terms and conditions of the spectrum What are these terms and conditions? The terms and conditions sourced from the Office of the Prime Minister that has jurisdiction over the NFMU are now presented.

The licensee will ensure:- 1. that programmes do not offend good taste or decency, or (are not) likely to incite racial hatred and crime, creating public disorder, or distasteful to public feeling;

2. that programmes are presented with accuracy and impartiality;

3. that impartiality is sustained on matters of political or industrial disagreement or pertaining to public policy;

4. that responsibility is exercised with regard to religious content and that no derogatory treatment of religious beliefs and views entertained;

5. that programmes have a high standard;

6. that opportunities are available to the public with regard to exposure to multiple views on matters of public interest;

7. that the television broadcasting station operates only on the frequencies assigned by the NFMU and for which the license is issued, and

only with the approved technical equipment;

Dangerous mischief The Independent Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel’s final report named ‘A CASE OF DANGEROUS EXTREMES’ by Dwight Whylie and Harry Mayers, monitored the media scene from February 1 through March 25, 2001 in Guyana. What did they find?

The report indicated that one of the talk show hosts displayed a newspaper to the camera with the masthead concealed. This paper’s headline cited the PPP/C as having contingency plans to contain and neutralise the army if it created problems, should the PPP/C win the 2001 election. The talk show host referred to ‘contain’ and ‘neutralise’ as words of war. This report was a recycled allegation with no evidence first published in the ‘New Nation’. The talk show host never revealed the identity of the newspaper from which he cited during the broadcast.

Whylie and Mayers deemed this broadcast as: “This is dangerous mischief which violates many tenets of professional journalism and several clauses of the Media Code of Conduct.”

Quite recently, one talk show host disseminated lies, saying that ethnic cleansing was effected against Africans at GECOM. This talk show host later retracted his statements.

Another example of unethical broadcast journalism happened just a few days ago when a talk show host said, “It’s hit back time. That it’s one for one.

That as Shaka Blair was taken home to rest, someone felt it is time to kill an Indian because a Black man was killed in his home village.”

Again, another talk show host said that Sergeant Kooseram’s shooting was as a result of a triangular love affair, ”clearly indicating that this talk show host has some knowledge of the killing. This is now, indeed, a matter for the Police to seek out the information from this talk show host, in order to apprehend Kooseram’s killer(s).

The first three examples violate the Representation of the People’s Amendment Act, No. 1 of 2001 of Guyana. This law was intended ‘to prohibit person/political parties to incite racial or ethnic violence or hatred’.

Against this background, only the licensee of the television station through which the talk show host/producer operates, is culpable for violations to the terms and conditions in the use of the spectrum. The time for legal action is now.

Advisory Committee on Broadcasting Most Codes of Ethics in broadcast journalism require journalists to collect and report information of importance and interest to the public accurately, honestly, and impartially. Talk show hosts’ main purpose of presenting an opinion or commentary is to inform the public and help them to make judgments on the issues of the day. Talk show hosts’ opinions and commentaries must be held to the same standards of accuracy with regard to

facts as news reports. Clearly, Codes of Ethics in journalism support Whylie’s position, which talk-show hosts in not providing evidence for their remarks, violate the public trust.

The public is invited to scrutinise the television programmes, identifying anything that is offensive. Having identified the offensive material, the individual can report it in writing to the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) located at 93 Duke Street, Kingston Georgetown. The ACB then reviews the complaint and confers with the relevant personnel at the television broadcasting station. Subsequently, the ACB makes a recommendation to the Office of the Prime Minister, which, in turn, will advise the licensee of the television station on the outcome of the complaint.

The ACB is one step toward eliminating media lawlessness!!!