There is some press freedom butů
May 4, 2007
The British High Commissioner has lauded the extent of press freedom in Guyana and indeed at first glance one cannot help but conclude that the media in this country are free. There is no monitoring agency, although the government did put in place an entity to deal with reports about television, and for this body to forward its findings to the Prime Minister for any action.
However, there is the view that this entity did not act fairly and served the interests of only a section of the media. Only three television stations were judged to be in breach of the rules of their licence and they were visited with sanctions.
The complaints came that there were others who had also committed grave wrongs but who seemed to escape any punishment.
Perhaps the best example that the media are not as free in this country could be gleaned from the absence of any other radio station. For years there have been applications for the government to relax the grip that it has on radio. And in the absence of licence people began to operate their own radio stations.
One operated on the Corentyne for some time until the government silenced it. The other then came on stream via a television station. It broadcast for a while until the state tracked it down and seized the equipment. This seizure was challenged in the courts and the matter determined. However, the judge, after some two years, is still to hand down his decision.
This in itself tells a story. For more than decade there have been applications for radio licences. In any other country there are more radio stations than television stations. Guyana is the exception. There are some two dozen television stations but only one radio station.
Radio is the cheapest of the mass communication tools, unless one adds the internet to the list of the mass media. It is affordable and within the reach of everyone. These days, people even access radio on their cellular phones.
When some interested operators sought to acquire licences, the people in control said that if other radio stations should appear on the scene, the government-owned station would be unable to compete and could collapse.
If there is to be a free press then the people should decide what they want to hear. Competition should be the order of the day as it is with the newspapers. Indeed the newspapers are free, although within recent times there was some talk that press freedom was being threatened by way of the withholding of advertisements from the government.
Existing television stations are not being permitted to expand their reach. The government contends that this would not be possible until there is broadcast legislation that would regulate their operation. This is a more direct threat to press freedom because people are being denied the right to hear programmes of their choice.
At the same time the government is allowing its station to expand in direct breach of the order issued by the very government. To explain this, the Prime Minister simply said that the government has the right to do such things.
One television newscast used to send copies of its programme to Kwakwani and to Linden for broadcast on the station that is now government-controlled, the authorities moved swiftly to halt those broadcasts.
There are numerous other cases of a limit to the freedom of the press. Indeed press freedom is not absolute. There are laws that curtail the extent of the freedom but this is the case in any part of the world.
Even in the United States which has as one of its amendments the limit on Congress to pass any law that would impinge on the operation of the press, there are the laws of libel and slander. But those are merely laws to protect the beneficiaries of the free press.
In Guyana, all is not well. Although there are no restrictions on the operations of the press there are hindrances to what could really be a free press.
There is also no Freedom of Information Act which is seen as crucial to a free press.
We hope that by next year this time around all these shortcomings would be consigned to history and those who talk about press freedom in Guyana would make their comments without any reservation.