Colloquium on Freedom of the Press – Stabroek News
What has been dubbed the 2022 World Press Freedom Day National Conference and Symposium has at least drawn public attention to what is needed for the media to operate without interference and hold to account to decision makers.
The government spared no effort over the two days and boasted during the proceedings that it was the largest such conference ever held here. Maybe it was, but there was a bit of confusion in the messages and the goals. Refreshingly, secondary school children were invited for both days and the government is to be commended for this initiative. However, the majority of participants appeared to be employees of ministries, state agencies, departments and regions and their role – purely informative – is entirely different from that of the free and independent media. Nevertheless, it would have been beneficial for them to have listened to the concerns raised by the free and independent media and in particular on their monitoring function.
The theme of the symposium itself was dubious: “Journalism Under Surveillance – Partnerships in Communication for Development -C4D” and may have inspired a direct question from the President of the Guyanese Press Association, Nazima Raghubir, to the President Ali to find out if his government was in possession of spyware and/or planned to acquire it and use it on journalists in particular. The President was adamant in his response: “This government has no intention – it is not in [contemplation] in my mind to move in any direction to have spyware or whatever to spy on anyone. I’m not even [imagining] something like that. So take it, get it out of your imagination now”.
This is not a trivial matter as the Pegasus spyware designed by the Israeli cyber arms company, NSO Group, has been used in various parts of the world for malicious purposes. Moreover, there are unanswered questions for the PPP/C under the Jagdeo administration as to exactly how convicted drug trafficker Roger Khan was able to acquire sophisticated spy equipment to continue his campaign against ‘criminals’. and the role of the government of the day in the debacle.
The other pillar of the theme “Partnerships in Communication for Development – C4D”, a concept very much promoted historically by the United Nations system, has the unfortunate connotation of all the media orchestrated towards a great national project. The partnership that is really needed for press freedom to thrive is government transparency and the institutional means to achieve it.
At a basic level, what the press in this country demands is that the government be fully transparent and accountable. President Ali claimed that his government was the most accessible to the media. There’s not much to brag about with a ruling party that has always been against openness and the media. It is unacceptable that as the second anniversary of his assumption of the presidency approaches, President Ali is still holding regular press conferences. These should ideally take place once a month. Openness and accommodation of the media cannot be defined by journalists blocking the president on the sidelines of official events and certainly not by the snobbery that occurred during the Brazilian president’s visit on Friday.
Second, there should be regular briefings on Cabinet decisions and the opportunity for the media to ask questions about them. This should, however, be stripped of the Luncheonesque circumlocution that was a hallmark of the Jagdeo administration. There is also the related issue of Vice President Jagdeo’s press conferences. These cannot be considered a substitute for presidential briefings as only President Ali can speak definitively on behalf of the government.
President Ali’s government must also put in place a functional access to information architecture and auxiliary bodies such as the Integrity Commission, which plays a crucial role in the fight against corruption among public officials, but which continues to be inexplicably held in abeyance.
Perhaps the most powerful signal sent to the government regarding the importance of press freedom and the role of independent journalists came in the joint statement by envoys from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union, the same conclave that played a vital role in maintaining democratic elections here in 2020.
Their statement, released under the more appropriate international global press freedom theme of “Digital Siege Journalism,” made the compelling point that “press attention to accountability has never been greater in Guyana.” with a historically large stream of revenue flowing into government coffers and regularly reported reporting. intends to use these resources for a development program that cuts across all regions and races. There is also a broader principle at play that strong democracies require the free flow of information in the public marketplace of opinions and ideas. As inconvenient as criticism may be for government officials and other leaders, it is part and parcel of the democratic cacophony.”
The government has much to consider in this statement, particularly in the context of the booming oil and gas sector and the inscrutability of decision-making in areas such as environmental permits for ExxonMobil’s operations, marketing Guyana crude oil and onshore gas project. to an energy program that would be the largest public sector project in the country’s history and a project fraught with serious risks and pitfalls.
On World Press Freedom Day, the International Press Institute (IPI) has offered 10 recommendations on what democratic governments should do to better protect press freedom at home and around the world. world. Some of them can be taken over by the government here.
Number six on the IPI list is: Show zero tolerance for attacks on the press.
“Attacks on journalists and media workers are the most serious form of censorship – and an attack on democracy itself. Democratic governments should therefore demonstrate their commitment to protecting the work of the press by vigorously defending journalists against verbal harassment, online and offline, and against physical threats, assaults and harm. This includes ensuring that public authorities thoroughly and promptly investigate all attacks against journalists, in accordance with international commitments on the safety of journalists. Democratic governments should also demonstrate their commitment to ensuring the safety of journalists and media workers by establishing national mechanisms to advance journalist safety, such as the PersVeilig (Press Safe) mechanism adopted by the Netherlands”.
Number 10 on the IPI list is particularly relevant: Creating an environment conducive to press freedom.
“Free and pluralistic media are an essential element of democratic societies. Democracies must take concrete steps to create an enabling environment for the development of pluralistic, independent and sustainable media ecosystems.
* “Building trust. Democratic governments must commit to building trust in the media and the critical role that watchdog journalism plays in holding the powerful to account and making our democracies stronger. Political elites and elected officials must refrain from verbal attacks on the press, as such rhetoric sows distrust of the media and exposes journalists to the risk of harassment and physical violence.
* “Prevent media capture. Democracies must redouble their efforts to ensure fair market conditions that enable the development of diverse and pluralistic media markets and protect independent media from political influence. This includes enacting and enforcing strict rules on ownership and competition to prevent market monopolies, guard against state takeover and ensure diversity of news and information.
* “Support independent journalism as a public good, including through public funding of independent journalism – including local journalism – channeled through independent mechanisms”.