Guarding an essential freedom
Guyana Chronicle
May 6, 2004

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EVERY year, May 3rd is a date, which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) the occasion is intended to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

"It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom - a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered", UNESCO notes.

It is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favour of press freedom, and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide.

The organisation adds:

"It serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.

"Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom.

"It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession."

Guyana can be proud of the impressive strides it has recorded since the restoration of democracy through free and fair elections in October 1992 towards ensuring freedom of the press.

From an almost totally state-controlled media landscape for years up to the late 1980's, Guyana has seen the emergence of many privately-owned media houses - especially television where almost everything and anything goes in a `Wild West' atmosphere.

The State continues to own media houses but this is more than matched by the growing range of private media houses, which provide scope for coverage of a wider range of issues.

More does not necessarily mean better, however, and it is in this area that the local media need to be more introspective and strive for better standards.

A major constraint, as it is in the rest of the Caribbean and other developing countries, is the small pool of skilled and trained professionals still serving in the field.

Many of our capable journalists have migrated and current standards of reporting leave much to desired.

Compounding the problem is the growing trend for promising talents to also move on once they have garnered enough training in the field.

Losing skills to the more developed countries is something that poor Third World countries can do little about but those in leadership positions in the profession have to ensure the preservation of acceptable standards in journalism.

Efforts to reign in the excesses on television have not amounted to much and the free-for-all continues.

`Talk show hosts' and `commentators' continue to try their best to stir up tensions for partisan political agendas and owners of these outlets would do well to be reminded of the carnage this has led to in several other countries.

Press freedom carries onerous responsibilities and those in the profession must at all times beware of the tremendous burden they bear in trying to ensure fairness, accuracy and honesty, among other things, in reporting on issues.

In taking stock of where they stand on the fundamentals of press freedom, those in the media here have to face up to the reality that while they jealously guard the rights they have won, there are still areas of serious shortcomings that have to be addressed.

We salute those who have steadfastly fought for press freedom here and around the world and join in supporting calls for ensuring greater responsibility to those sacred principles of the profession.