Media responsibility
Guyana Chronicle
August 11, 2003

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THE controversy brewing over the Broadcasting Bill epitomizes the distinction between moderation and extremism that has drenched Guyana's media landscape since 1997.

It has also sharpened awareness of realism and self-interest as political themes.

Most of Guyana's laws are adaptations of British and North American legislation. The country's political parties know, therefore, that when America's Founding Fathers ratified the ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution in December of 1791 known as the Bill of Rights, they envisioned the Constitution evolving to guarantee that no citizen would enjoy such basic rights as free speech, freedom of the press, et cetera, at the expense of another citizen's enjoyment of his or her inalienable rights.

Hence, when in 1919 the secretary of the U.S. Socialist Party authorized the mailing of printed materials persuading Americans to resist involvement in World War I, at a time when the Woodrow Wilson administration was busy turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering citizenry, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "when there existed 'a clear and present danger' to the United States, restraint must be put on free speech."

The U.S. Constitution has evolved by leaps and bounds since 1919, with the Supreme Court in some instances reversing earlier rulings. But under no circumstance do any of its rulings preclude the media from acting responsibly.

At a UNESCO-organized Caribbean media workshop the Burnham administration hosted here December 3 to 8, 1972, participants - mostly state-media officials - generally accepted several conclusions.

Among them, that:

* Media managers are aware that the media must be subject to the social constraints which operate on all social institutions - the pressure to serve the needs of society;

* The media must be governed by society's views and good taste. They cannot continue to exist in violation of this standard;

* Concern for the needs of the individual members of society and personal fulfillment must take precedence, for information and personal fulfillment must take precedence over self-interest of any institution - whether governmental or commercial. (See Caribbean Workshop in Communications and Development, "What is communication for development?")

The participants disagreed over whether the media should go through government to find out what the people needed or whether they should go directly to the people, but the vision of the PNC, committed to transforming Guyana into a socialist state, was that there should be no room for news by the printed or broadcast media to reflect anything but "constructive government actions."

When President Forbes Burnham died on August 6, 1985, the PNC made it clear that it remained committed to implementing Mr. Burnham's socialist policies, though circumstances might require a temporary modification of party strategy.

If the PNC/Reform's support for broadcast TV networks churning out programming that a media monitoring panel in February of 2001 described as "a free-for-all with very disturbing consequences for credibility, respect, decency, balance and fair play" simply because it is now the Opposition, then as a people we need to take note.

Our libraries groan with tomes from individuals and organizations pronouncing on the broadcast programmes are designed to fester an adversary relationship among the Guyanese people.

Yet the PNCR insists that it is committed to putting Guyana first.

Unless we are misinterpreting the Opposition's position on the Broadcasting Bill, we may be led to think that its rhetoric is suffused with that sense of complexity and dialectical contradiction that is central to an unkind, insensitive opposition.

We hope we are wrong.

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