President Jagdeo’s appeal to the media
Kaieteur News
July 13, 2004

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President Jagdeo’s appeal to the media in Guyana, to be more responsible in the way they present news and consider the impact of such news on the country’s tourism industry, is worthy of the most careful consideration.

First, let us back up a bit. A few weeks ago, President Jagdeo had a much publicised spat with the media in Jamaica over remarks he made about the media and tourism. At that time, the Jamaican media interpreted Jagdeo’s comments to mean that they deliberately downplay the island’s crime situation and HIV/AIDS statistics to protect vital economic interests, specifically, tourism.

The Jamaican media took umbrage at what they thought he meant, claiming that they were totally professional and do not do cosmetic jobs to help the nation’s image. Hasty clarifications and public relations damage control came from President Jagdeo’s camp.

Not so, President Jagdeo and his cohorts asserted. They said his message had been misconstrued and misunderstood. They floated a transcript of what he said, but what he meant is still the subject of much debate at home and abroad.

Suffice to say that in the murky aftermath, President Jagdeo seemed to tiptoe to relative safety. But not before the idea circulated that he had actually meant to compliment the Jamaican media for hiding bad news in the interest of Jamaica’s tourism industry.

Also, word spread that the President had clearly implied that the media in Guyana should do likewise — highlight good news and tread softly on bad news — to present a ‘tourist friendly’ image of Guyana.

Any uncertainty about Jagdeo’s view of the role of the media regarding Guyana’s fledgling tourism industry vanished early this week when he exhorted the media to be more responsible in the way they presented news about Guyana, in deference to Guyana’s tourism industry.

This time there was nothing to misunderstand; the president left no doubt that he believes the media should protect the international image of the nation, presumably by accentuating the positive and downplaying what is negative about life in Guyana.

No one would argue that the media should not support Guyana’s tourism industry in any way they can. No one can argue that the media should highlight good news about Guyana as far as possible. However, there is a limit to the extent to which the media can do so because the main function of the media is to relate news, not practice public relations.

The primary role of the media is to present news in the public’s interest, without fear or favour, and comment fairly on it. In doing so, the media should not interject bias in the news by slanting the news to preserve or create any type of image, good or bad.

In terms of doing their job, the overriding considerations for the media should be: truthfulness; accuracy; fairness and balance. If the media present news about Guyana that meets these criteria but does not enhance the image of Guyana, so be it!

Yes, the media have a duty to promote a positive image of Guyana, provided that image is genuine. Surely, they ought to present Guyana in the most favourable light, but not to the extent of deliberately painting a flattering, untruthful picture of any aspect of life in Guyana.

There is another important consideration, like it or not, bad news sells in Guyana. Every successful media house in Guyana knows this. When bad news is headline news, it is not because the media are determined to be sensational, or to pander to unwholesome aspects of human nature. It is usually business decision based on what sells in Guyana, reflecting the appetite and interests of the Guyanese people.

Someone should whisper in President Jagdeo’s ear that most media houses in Guyana are run as businesses.

There is nothing wrong with President Jagdeo’s call for the media to support Guyana’s tourism industry. The harsh reality is: the media are only likely to promote a good image of Guyana if it is accurate and if doing so would not compromise their individual business interests.