Time For A Media Reality Check
Guyana Chronicle
May 14, 2003

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Half a week after Chancellor Desiree Bernard called for a code of conduct for lawyers and for the judiciary to assert itself in stemming the flow of contempt of court, some sections of the media continue to disseminate news with “bias by commission.”

The term is hardly new.

American media expert Brent Baker defined the term in 1994 as, “a pattern of passing along assumptions or errors that tend to support a left-wing or liberal view.”

Madame Chancellor didn’t specifically address the issue of contempt of court by the media when she delivered the keynote speech at last Saturday’s opening session of the Guyana Bar Association’s third annual law conference.

She probably didn’t have the media in mind at all. But the persistent practice of bias by some media houses vehemently opposed to the government - a case in point being their aim to project a division between the government and the army - has left little doubt in many people’s minds that it’s time that the media get a reality check.

In a book titled How to Identify, Expose and Correct Liberal Media Bias, Baker describes bias by commission as the most common form of media bias.

Says Baker: “…You will often recognise bias by commission when a reporter presents only one slant on a topic that you know has arguments to the contrary.”

He then gives us a word of advice: “Reporters should, within the limited amount of time or space provided for their story, provide approximately equal time to presenting the best arguments of both sizes of an issue. Analysis of both views should be given so that news consumers can make up their own mind as to which perspective makes the most sense.”

Jamaica’s Michael Whylie and Barbados’ Harry Mayers said much the same thing two years ago.

As the Independent Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel commissioned by the Guyana Elections Commission to report on the media’s adherence to a code of conduct for the March 2001 elections, Mr. Whylie (now deceased) and Mr. Mayers observed soon after they arrived here that there was “much to suggest that urgent attention be paid to the two extremes of Guyana’s peculiar media mix - government controls at one end of the spectrum and a scary free-for-all at the other.”

The government-managed media acknowledged devoting a larger percentage of their newscasts/newspaper space on news and information originating from the government than from the opposition. But nothing in any of the panel’s reports pointed to it “having overwhelming evidence” that much remained “to be done to recover credibility, respect, decency, balance and fair play” in the so-called state media.

As has been said elsewhere, talking about public opinion within a dictatorship is a preposterous and, some would suggest, highly inaccurate business.

But we no longer operate in that kind of environment. Guyana is a democracy with a populace we all contend is intelligent, capable of discerning truth from falsity and able to draw rational conclusions and make wise judgments. In fact, the continual perpetration of disrespect for lawful authority and for the rule of law by some media operatives, connotes the unbridled freedom that the media enjoy. Unfortunately, it also underscores the need for the issue of biased, irresponsible journalism to be addressed in a contempt of court perspective.

More and more Guyanese, realising that the "facts" espoused by the “runaway” media do not stand up to scrutiny, want the state to legislate and enforce laws demanding media responsibility. Hopefully, official censorship won’t be necessary to dissuade reporters from such destructive practices.

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