An historic occasion Editorial
Stabroek News
May 25, 2002

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President Bharrat Jagdeo must be commended for signing the Declaration of Chapultepec yesterday at State House. The Declaration took its name from the conference site in Mexico where it was written and adopted. The principles embodied in the Declaration have been signed and endorsed by many heads of state in the hemisphere as well as by journalists, social and political leaders, international organisations and thousands of private individuals .

The Declaration is an attempt to spell out the basic right of the media in a free society. Many media persons will have experienced in practice the relevance of some of its principles. Though it is not legally binding, it represents a commitment by government in spirit to freedom of the press and to the principle of freedom of expression espoused in Article l46 of our Constitution.

The Inter American Press Association, an organisation comprised of some l,300 newspapers and magazines, organised a conference of distinguished private citizens in March l994 to forge a document that would set forth the principles for a free press in the hemisphere in an effort to call attention to its fundamental belief that the ability of nations to solve their problems depends on the ability of their people to discuss and write about them freely and without fear of punishment. The first principle states that "No people or society can be free without freedom of expression and of the press. The exercise of this freedom is not something authorities grant, it is an inalienable right of the people".

With the single exception of the maintenance of a state monopoly of radio, the government has a good record on press freedom. It has recently officially indicated that radio licences will be issued as soon as new broadcasting legislation is finalised at which stage the broadcasting authority will deal with applications from those who want to open radio stations.

There are, and will always be, tensions between the media and the government and other vested interests. That is the necessary price to be paid for free speech, but as the ninth of the ten principles of the Declaration of Chapultepec states, "The credibility of the press is linked to its commitment to truth, to the pursuit of accuracy, fairness and objectivity and to the clear distinction between news and advertising".

The Government of Guyana yesterday joined other democratic governments in the region in making a formal public commitment to freedom of expression. It was an historic occasion.