British envoy lauds press freedom in Guyana

Kaieteur News
May 4, 2007

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The fact that local media entities are free to give their own views, thus making Guyana a patron to the notion of Press Freedom, was commended by British High Commissioner, Fraser Wheeler, when he addressed a gathering of media practitioners yesterday at the British High Commission's Main Street Office.

The address came as part of the observance of World Press Freedom Day, a day which was designated by the United Nations to assess and reinforce the need for a free press.

Wheeler pointed out that the day is characterised by the efforts of Governments, Inter-Governmental and Non-Governmental Organisations, as well as civil society, to take note of the crucial role a free press plays in strengthening democracies and fostering development around the world.

“ The media is considered a key building block of any democratic society and especially of societies struggling to build their democracies.

“It serves as both watchdog and advocate, communicating to both Governments and citizens, and provides a forum for competing and conflicting views, ” Wheeler said.

He added that the media has a role to help fight poverty and can point to the consequences of actions that might have a poverty dimension; suggest better ways of alleviating poverty; and expose corruption that would frustrate development.

According to the High Commissioner, the media also has the potential to influence and inform the public on the global, regional and national linkages that exist and can affect development in both positive and negative ways.

“In countries where full freedom of the press is practised, there is reduced official corruption, increased Government accountability, and more participation by civil society in nation-building.

“These benefits, in turn, lead to fewer conflicts, greater political stability, greater investment, improved social services, increased trade and numerous other advantages,” Wheeler said.

And since the impact of globalisation has become more pronounced, which is evident through the fast rate at which information travels, Wheeler pointed out that Governments can no longer control what information are circulated worldwide.

“The press can now influence public opinion not just at home but across the globe. Therefore, journalists need to be ever more mindful of their roles as watch-dogs and advocates.”

He even alluded to the fact that all of humanity can be considered a part of the media since the advancement of technology now allows the production of high quality moving images which can reach audiences far and wide, via the internet.

“This facility is available to all, which means that it can be abused by those intent on harm.

“Terrorists can show pictures worldwide of decapitation, and can seek to influence audiences of their cause. This is the new context in which press freedom lies.”

And though marred by some negative episodes, there has been no hindrance to the media-designated day to which a number of events were streamlined to mark its tenth observance this year.

Wheeler noted that in St Lucia, Caribbean representatives are gathered for a two-day conference under the theme ‘Media Democracy, Media Laws and Access to Information: Challenges for Caribbean Journalists and Media Organisations'.

“ The conference is expected to provide a forum for informed discussion on the relationship between media and democracy, and the challenges faced by media in enhancing democratic governance in the region,” the High Commissioner noted. And in the United Kingdom, University students were engaged in essay writing on ‘The Greatest Threat to World Media Freedom' in addition to debates on the theme ‘World Media Freedom is in Retreat.' The internationally-observed day was held under the theme Press Freedom, Safety of Journalists and Impunity. And it was in this regard that the High Commissioner bestowed tributes to several local journalists, especially the recently deceased Angela Osborne and Paul Persaud, also known as, Paul O'Hara. Wheeler also advocated for the release of BBC journalist, Alan Johnston, who became a captive in the line of duty.

He (Wheeler) along with several media workers signed a virtual petition for Johnston's release. These activities, Wheeler pointed out, simply bring to light that even though world press freedom has come to be accepted by many societies, the struggle is not yet over.

“There are still a number of challenges to be faced and the fight to preserve this basic human right goes on,” Wheeler said.