GPA STATEMENT IN OBSERVANCE OF WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY 2007
May 3, 2007
The Guyana Press Association (GPA) salutes all journalists and media workers across the country on World Press Freedom Day- 2007 under the theme "Press Freedom, Safety of Journalists and Impunity.'
It is now 10 years since the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed May 3 as an occasion to annually assess and reinforce the importance of a free press in fostering and promoting democracy.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) this year places special emphasis on the safety of journalists—a focus that virtually coincides with the observance of "World Day for Safety and Health at Work" on April 28.
The relationship between Safety of Journalists-indeed all media workers- and the safety and health at the workplace cannot be over-estimated. The time has come for national decision-makers of Occupational Safety and Health and media houses to recognise that attacks on media workers constitute both physical and psychological harm. Likewise, media workers must consider the psychological impact on the wider public of gory images of dead people.
Perhaps the most classic but dastardly act that highlights the risks journalists and other media workers face is the abduction of BBC Journalist, Alan Johnston, more than one month ago by armed militias in the Gaza strip area.
The GPA today joins the international appeal for the immediate and safe release of Mr. Johnston, who has dedicated his life-long career to bringing the truth to us around the world. We also trust that his captors will one day be brought to justice.
Each journalist attacked in the line of duty is one too many and adds to the burden that each of us carries during the course of our duties. While the abduction of Mr. Johnston must be condemned, we must not be daunted.
Mr. Johnston's abduction and the numerous verbal and physical attacks on Guyanese media workers, particularly during the election campaigning and periods of heightened street protests over the years must, instead, inspire media workers to unceasingly seek the truth without fear or favour.
Though the security environment in the Middle East and parts of Latin America is horrifying, Guyana is one of the small numbers of Caribbean Community (Caricom) member nations where the safety of journalists must be given priority attention as far as news-safety is concerned.
This is particularly necessary given the rise in transnational crimes like drug trafficking, trafficking in persons and corruption because the region is regarded as one that is of geographical strategic importance. The small number of Guyanese news organisations that provide sustained and impartial coverage of these issues must be saluted, despite the attendant grave risks.
The GPA trusts that these organisations and in particular their journalists will stand out as shining examples that are worthy of emulation by other media houses if we are to collectively play a more meaningful role in good governance and democracy.
Today, those of us who are alive to celebrate this day must for a moment reflect on those of our colleagues who have passed away either through natural means or by the guns of criminals.
All Guyana must pause a while to remember those five Kaieteur News pressmen who were executed at their place of work by a band of terrorists. The police have arrested most if not all of the suspects and we hope that justice will prevail.
How can we also forget, the assassination of Ronald Waddell whose killing was felt with equal pain, as was the quintet over at Kaieteur News?
More than a year since unknown gunmen riddled him with some 13 bullets, police are yet to make any arrests of his killers and whether an investigation is ongoing is a matter for all of us journalist to find out. We hear the usual line whenever someone ask about Waddell's killing "Investigations are continuing".
GPA today demands that the law enforcement authorities revisit this case, investigate it with the same fervour and vigour as is being done in other cases and prosecute those who are responsible for this heinous act. The media fraternity needs to know the motive for the killing of Mr. Waddell. No one has been able to ascertain truly whether he was killed for his views as a television talk-show host.
It would be a fitting honour to the local media fraternity if today the Commissioner of Police, Henry Greene who was at the time of Waddell's killing the Crime Chief could tell us what strides have been made since his brutal slaying in front of his Subryanville home.
Further, today, while the GPA will defend the right to Freedom of Expression as enshrined in Guyana's Constitution and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights; we must be ever cognizant that deliberate incitement on the basis of race, colour, religion or class can have untold consequences to our Dear Land.
The delicate balance of safety and covering the impact and circumstances of the gunmen or even the legal and ethical implications of talking with any of the gunmen to ascertain what their objective was have all impacted on the news content that is being provided.
Similarly, the general elections from 1997 to 2007 had all provided a platform for grave danger in the provision of news coverage. Covering marches, picketing demonstrations, political meetings and election-related court cases have been all fraught with danger. The danger to which media workers are exposed during electioneering depends on which media houses they work for and whether the media house is perceived to be pro or anti-government.
Politicians who publicly criticize media houses of their choice, deeming them biased, declaring them enemies and even calling for or instituting boycotts often fuel these perceptions. This translates to verbal abuse and even physical aggression whenever media workers go to cover certain meetings or public activities by these political parties
MEDIA WORKERS' WELFARE
As we join our colleagues around the globe to observe World Press Freedom Day, we urge media owners to insure the lives of media workers who cover volatile and otherwise dangerous situations. To minimise the incidence of unwarranted attacks on media workers covering conflict-situations; the GPA suggests that special arrangements be made to transport those workers rather than them using public transportation.
Moreover, although we are celebrating a free press today, some of our colleagues are still shackled by poverty-their earnings unable to upkeep them and their families. This has led to mass migration of reporters from the profession-many of them turning to public relations duties at local companies and donor agencies.
The situation has created a huge void in the profession; the result being many in-experienced media workers who are in the profession because it has seemingly become one of the easiest jobs to find. Despite this grim situation, those of us who have remained, report for work every day and give of our best. To this end, we call again on media owners to properly remunerate their staff.
It is the GPA's firm belief that many of our members are dedicated and committed to their tasks. Their levels of performance and attitude to work could only improve if they are rewarded tangibly for their efforts.
Journalists and other categories of media workers also have a duty to ensure there is an unfettered media. We must NEVER allow our responsibility for the Public's Right to Know to be compromised. Let us, therefore, reject any offer or temptation to receive or provide financial or other inducements in exchange for information or coverage. A clear and bold line must be drawn between advertisements and journalistic content. At this time we also call on our colleagues to observe the code of ethics of the profession and be appropriately attired for formal assignments.
The GPA will never stand idly by and allow members of the media to be maltreated but at the same time, we shall experience grave difficulty justifying certain actions. Our almost daily coverage of issues such as non-discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS, health and the environment must be transposed to our own personal way of life and the image of the wider fraternity by our thoughts and actions.
On World Press Freedom Day, the Executive of the GPA takes this opportunity to inform our members and prospective members that we have moved one step much closer in engaging other stakeholders to share with the political decision-makers our perspectives on what constitutes an acceptable Broadcast Legislation.
Equally, we support current efforts to have a Freedom of Information Act and stand ready to work with all stakeholders to make this a reality. Good governance and accountability in an evolving democracy are only achievable if the masses are given access to information and appropriate channels are provided for the dissemination of content.
We also take this opportunity to call on the Government of Guyana to adhere to commitments given at the regional level to resolve the issue concerning the allocation of advertisements to the privately-owned Stabroek News newspaper.
The GPA is yet to be convinced that there are commercial motives for the withdrawal of the advertisements, particularly since we are aware that the decision has caused grave disquiet in the leadership of the governing Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) among those who are conscious of their struggles for press freedom while in opposition.
Internally, the current executive of the GPA has made great strides in improving and strengthening accountability. While there is always room for improvement, we believe that our achievements so far provide a sound basis for interfacing with partners to provide more training to members of the media. Training and the practice of knowledge imparted, the GPA believes, are keys to the appreciation of not only good writing, production and presentation techniques but also ethical and safety issues.
As the wider public joins Guyanese media workers in observing World Press Freedom Day; we quote from the Secretary General of UNESCO, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura who sums up the inextricable relationship between safety and freedom of expression in his statement on the occasion of this year's observance, he states that "The safety of journalists is an issue that affects us all. Every aggression against a journalist is an attack on our most fundamental freedoms. Press freedom and freedom of expression cannot be enjoyed without basic security.
The GPA asks the nation to pause a while to remember the five Kaieteur News pressmen who were executed at their place of work by a band of terrorists