The media and national consensus Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
August 5, 2002

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WHEN, some three decades ago, a wag decided to entitle his book ‘The Media Is The Massage’ as a spoof on Schramm’s famous concept, ‘The Media Is The Message’ he was not far wrong. More and more people in this civilisation have come to rely on the media to help shape their intellectual and emotional responses to a range of issues and events. In the developed societies, politicians and statesmen do not ignore the polls and surveys conducted by agencies and even media houses themselves on questions such as the popularity of government leaders or the likely voting pattern of the public on specific issues.

In the Guyana situation, although it may be one of those self-evident truths, it is necessary for media operatives to be reminded from time to time that their writings and utterances have the power to help heal wounds in the society, or to deepen cleaves and even re-ignite old hatreds. Early in 1998, Dr Keith Mitchell, the-then Chairman of CARICOM had words of caution for the Guyana press corps as it went about its reporting on the progress of the Herdmanston Accord and other related issues. He admonished them not to contribute negatively to the situation. Some months later, Mr Maurice King, the CARICOM-appointed Facilitator, said as much to the media practitioners and he advised them to be responsible in their reportage of the political developments in this country.

In November of 1998, visiting South African Senator Mr Mohamed Enver Surty made an impassioned plea to media personnel attending a forum organised by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and conducted at the Hotel Tower. The Senator, who made a presentation on the participation of the media in Constitutional Reform, based on the South African experience, urged local media practitioners to “push forward the process, by not engineering a division, but to promote the way to a consensus amongst political leaders and amongst political parties”.

Senator Surty went on to explain how the South African media encouraged the process of dialogue between the main political parties, and between the parties and sections of civil society. In this way, he disclosed, many different views by many different groups in the society were ventilated. The South African envoy confessed that he found this diversity of opinions the most significant thing in advancing the freedoms and rights in the Constitution and making the people aware, “not from a particular bias, but from a general perspective encompassing not one single point of view, but a general point of view”.

Unfortunately, in a society such as Guyana’s where the political culture defines the perspective and outlook of almost every organisation, most media houses, almost by rote, take their distance from one issue and support another issue with little pretence of professional integrity or credibility. Some agencies only portray certain events when their perceived political opponents are thrown in a negative or unflattering light. Sadly enough, this is the type of narrow-minded and squinty-eyed approach, which hinders progress and actively prevents the healing of old hurts. The bitter recriminations that push groups of people further apart are kept alive by this type of treatment.

While it is true that the media reflects the condition of the wider society, those media houses that are conscious of this very sensitive juncture of the nation’s history, should be exceedingly careful in the way they portray certain news stories and opinion pieces. Those article and letters, which descend to personal abuse and insult, or could be considered inflammatory, should be toned down or not published at all. If the items cannot be deemed to promote consensus, but instead, are likely to further divisiveness and recrimination, then they should have no platform in the public domain.