2006 was difficult for journalists
January 5, 2007
The year just passed was said to have been the most dangerous for journalists worldwide. Some three dozen died, many of them in hotspots around the world. Some died in Iraq covering the conflict that has seen the execution of former President Saddam Hussein who ruled the country with an iron fist for some three decades.
Routinely, journalists travel to places that many would fear to visit just to get the story to the world. Courtesy of television, we have seen one cameraman being hit by a bullet and forced to drop the camera he was using to transmit the pictures around the world.
In some parts of the world, a few journalists were assassinated. One of them was killed in Russia for reporting on a perceived Mafia boss. One woman reporter was gunned down in London for her investigative work on drug trafficking and one man was shot dead in a New York café for also reporting on the drug trade.
But reporters were not only the targets of the criminal underworld. Certain Governments were also hostile to reporters, none more so than the Zimbabwean Government. In fact, this government moved to shut down a newspaper that was deemed to be in opposition to the government.
In Guyana , journalists continue to operate freely although many felt that they had to tread with caution. Last year was the year when the Joint Services tackled the drug overlords in Guyana and successfully dismantled what was believed to be the haven for illegal drugs in the country.
But even before that action, while the drug dealings were an open secret, no reporter dared to write anything that would point a finger at any of the suspected drug lords. It was the same with the criminal gangs that roamed the country. Journalists had reservations about naming suspects. If they did publish a report linking a certain criminal to a crime they were at pains to ensure that they were not identified with writing the story.
The courts were also sacred grounds. Journalists studiously refrained from criticizing actions by the judiciary for fear of invoking the wrath of a judge and ending up facing contempt charges.
Perhaps Guyanese journalists were more known for the haste with which they sought to leave the country to seek employment in the Caribbean through the Free Movement of Skills. Many are now in the employ of the various television stations and newspapers in those countries while back home we can only long for the days when we had capable reporters who could have worked unsupervised.
But for all our shortcomings, we did exceedingly well reporting on those things that helped shape the society. Our crowning moment came when we signed a code of conduct to report responsibly on the events leading to the August polls.
Such was conduct of the local reporters that just about every newscast earned favourable ratings by the visiting media monitors. And when the post elections period turned out to be vastly different from so many others, the local journalists were heaped with plaudits. The visitors insisted that the local reporters were responsible for the peace and tranquility that followed the polls.
There were times when observers, among them politicians, accused the media of being anti-national. On occasions, President Bharrat Jagdeo had cause to remind the media that in other countries where there was rampant crime, the news media did their best to suppress the violence.
Guyana highlighted the various criminal activities and with the far-reaching influence of the Internet, these reports reached every corner of the globe.
Those bold enough to critically examine situations, particularly those controlled by the government, came in for some scathing criticisms from none other than the Head of State. The Guyana Press Association has remained silent throughout the attacks but that has not stopped those who have come under attack from defending themselves.
The past year, too, saw journalists changing media houses with amazing regularity with the bulk gravitating to the state media, to the detriment of the other media houses, many of them fledgling organisations.
The New Year offers nothing more challenging than reporting for the benefit of the hordes scheduled to come for Cricket World Cup. There will be no wars to threaten the lives of the local reporters but then again, reporting in Guyana has its own perils that may not be life-threatening.