Guyana Chronicle
November 14, 2002

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It is quite a popular view that talk show hosts have brought broadcasting to a new low in Guyana. And many of them hide under the rubric of freedom of expression. Under Clause 146 (1), the Constitution protects freedom of expression. But that freedom under Clause 146 (2) is conditioned under a number of obligations. So the freedom is not absolute.

The broadcast journalist needs to demonstrate commitment to the following, according the Radio and Television Directors Association Canada: providing information accurately, comprehensively, and in a balanced manner; presenting the public issue with the relevant background information; making certain that public issues are not sensationalized or distorted; and respecting the dignity, privacy, and emotional well-being of people in public life.

It is an understatement to say that television talk show hosts are constantly abusing the air waves in this country. 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.

What are these terms and conditions?
The licensee
1. will ensure that programs do not offend good taste or decency, or likely to incite racial hatred and crime, creating public disorder, or distasteful to public feeling;

2. will ensure that programmes are presented with accuracy and impartiality;

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

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

5. will ensure programs have a high standard;

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

7. will ensure 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;

These terms and conditions are being infringed on a daily basis, and the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) has done little to stem the tide of violent assaults on journalistic ethics.

Only last year, the Independent Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel’s final report titled A CASE OF DANGEROUS EXTREMES by Dwight Whylie and Harry Mayers, monitored the media scene from February 1 through March 25, 2001 in Guyana. Among other things, they made these three comments.

1. 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 neutralize the army if it created problems, should the PPP/C win the 2001 election. The talk show host referred to ‘contain’ and ‘neutralize’ 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.

2. They also found one talk show to be obnoxious and his statements spurted out were lacking in evidence. Incredibly, this talk show claimed in his response that talk-show hosts do not have to provide evidence. Whylie pointed out that for any talk-show host to claim that it was not his/her responsibility to provide evidence, was sheer illiteracy, as all information has some foundation for truth. Whylie and Mayers deemed this broadcast as: “dangerous mischief which violates many tenets of professional journalism and several clauses of the Media Code of Conduct.”

3. Media Monitors Whylie and Mayers also criticized another for broadcasting several expletives on air. The Panelists believe that this broadcast violated the code of ethics in journalism. The independent Panelists confirmed that the information put out was ‘unsubstantiated allegation or accusation, much of it defamatory and likely to fan the flames of distrust, prejudice and discontent. In our view, this is grossly irresponsible in a fragile democracy and inimical to nation building.

Numerous other examples of talk show hosts’ journalistic abuse abound. Indeed, everyday, talk show hosts violate the substantive tenets of journalism. Some of these abuses 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. The time for the establishment of a broadcasting authority has arrived. The ACB has outlived its usefulness. In many ways, the ACB is not structured to address and monitor these vicious and sadistic attacks on broadcast journalism.

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 Mayers and Whylie’s position, that talk-show hosts in not providing evidence for their remarks, violated the public trust. Dwight Whylie and Harry Mayers admonished the talk show hosts, asserting that they have degenerated and were a ‘significant destabilizing factor’ in the society.

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