“The communications media are vehicles through which citizens receive and transmit information... Restrictions in the flow of information deny citizens the opportunity to participate fully in decision-making and, thereby impair democracy.”
These are the words President David Granger used to describe the importance of the open media, which delivers to Guyana’s people one of their inalienable rights, free access to information.
This year, the Guyana Press Association (GPA) is celebrating its 75th Anniversary and the President sought to commemorate this occasion with a closer look at the journey, to date, of the press in Guyana. This edition of Government in Action explores the importance of fair and unbiased news reporting, especially as Guyana approaches General and Regional Elections.
Investing in Guyana’s media
Every year since taking office, President Granger, has hosted an annual Media Brunch, held under the Baridi Benab in the State House compound, aimed at improving State and media relations.
Having once been a media professional himself, the Head of State recognises the importance of news that informs the public, without bias. President Granger emphasised this point in his address at this year’s Media Brunch, held on Sunday, January 5, 2020.
“I brought along this Pocket Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus. Your president asked if I would make a presentation to her or to the media and well, I just opened it at ‘F’ – fair: treating people equally; equitable, honest, impartial, unbiased, unprejudiced, neutral, even-handed. Can you imagine? When somebody speaks of fairness they are speaking about impartiality, unbiased, unprejudiced, neutral, even-handed,” the Head of State said.
To provide contrast, President Granger also gave the Dictionary’s definition of the word ‘fake’.
“On the other hand, on the same page, you have ‘fake’. ‘Fair and ‘fake’. Fake: counterfeit, forged, fraudulent, sham, pirated, false, bogus. I would urge that before we issue statements, we check with this little book… and see what fair means I would urge that your statements in future be guided by accurate representation of the words of the President,” he said.
President Granger also spoke about the importance of training and education within the communications sector and gave his commitment to help fund the training of Guyana’s media.
“I still hold to my vow that I am prepared to make an annual subvention to the Guyana Press Association coming from my funds called the National Endowment for Science and Technology (NEST), to assist the Guyana Press Association, without any interference from me or the Government, to conduct training in the course of 2020,” he said.
The Guyana Press Association
President of the GPA, Ms. Nazima Raghubir offered a brief history of the GPA.
“The [Guyana] Press Association is the second oldest press advocacy body in the Region… the oldest being the Jamaican association… Not a lot is known about the origin of the Press Association, other than it was formed in 1945. That is not because people don’t want to know… The Press Association and Guyana itself has not had a very [strong archive to provide that history for us… The Press Association has about 120 members and they span from journalists to cameramen, photographers and even some student memberships and other people who are not full members,” she said.
Relevant in a modern world
The landscape for media is changing around the world. The rise of social media and ever advancing mobile phone technology has given any civilian the power to produce ‘news’ and openly opine on national and international issues. Unfortunately, this also gives any individual the power to disseminate distorted information as the average person is not bound to the scrutiny that comes with fact-checking and multi-level editing.
Ms. Raghubir said the traditional media still has a relevant role in modern society: disseminating the truth.
“The media has a very important job and that is to fact-check and to be able to put factual information out there that has been sifted through the mills of fact-checking and resources, and ensuring that we provide the accurate information. Not all the time the social media commentators and [content] on social media can do that. While social media has its role in putting news out there, traditional media has its own role and we’re beginning to understand that,” she said.
Ms. Raghubir also acknowledged that today’s media consumer wants information at their fingertips. While this is understandable for the age of information, the GPA president encourages all consumers to compile their news from multiple sources.
“I read one story from multiple sources and if there is something that I’m not too certain about, I do my own research on it… One of the things you have to do is try to get your news from multiple sources. Maybe that is the way that you ought to be better informed… I think people need to think a lot more when sharing articles. They see something catchy and they don’t even click on it, they just share it. They don’t read it. We have to be very cognizant of what we’re doing, where we’re getting our information from. If you know these are the legitimate sources, stick with them. That’s very important… Coming on to elections time, everything can go haywire… If you want to add to a national conversation on anything, make sure it’s coming from a credible source,” she said.
Chasing the truth
On the side-lines of this year’s Media Brunch, media professionals offered their views on the role of the media today. Chief Editor of News Source Guyana and popular media personality, Mr. Gordon Moseley spoke on the privileged position of media personnel and the weighty responsibility that accompanies that privilege.
“The media has a unique role. We have a front seat to anything and because we have that front seat, we’ve got to ensure the information we put out… informs and educates above anything else, and then you can entertain. I think what we’ve seen over the years is the media landscape changing. So, now Facebook and social media has given everyone a TV station, a radio station in their hands and I think sometimes people confuse journalists with an ordinary man out there with a camera doing a live [video]. I think the role of media is to generally ensure that the information that is put out there is done in a fair manner. It’s objective and that it’s truthful. I think those are the hallmarks of good journalism,” he said.
Mr. Moseley offered this advice to today’s consumers:
“I believe now more than ever [that] the role of the media is important because we’re doing this in an age of social media where people are going to put things out there from ten years ago and make it appear as if it was [said] today. I always tell people [to] ensure [their] news sources are real. Ensure your news sources are objective. And read multiple sources. Do not bury your head into one newspaper and think that is the gospel. Get as many sources as you can so that you can formulate what is put there for you,” he said.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Communications Network, NCN, Mr. Enrico Woolford said that in addition to balanced reporting, Guyana’s media personnel face the challenge of disseminating information across this vast nation.
“Guyana is a vast country. 83,000 square miles is a lot of square miles and therefore, we need to have people connected via content and via the carrier. We must have satellite distribution of signals. We must have fibre optic distribution cables. We must have roads and other connects. People feel connected to a country if they are connected,” he said.
Mr. Woolford also urged the media to pursue truth instead of merely pursuing the story at hand.
“The Guyana Press Association played a very, very important part in the development of the country in terms of fair and balanced coverage and making sure there is objectivity and so on… The Guyana Press Association has to, and has held, all parts of the society… to that higher standard to ensure that when we carry a story, we carry it without fear or favour, affection or ill-will… The young people say, ‘stay woke’… You must ask… why is somebody coming to tell me this story? What is the intent of the communication? The intent of the communication sometimes is more important than the communication itself. Why are you trying to tell me this narrative?” he said.
The Guyana Press Association will continue to work alongside, educate, and encourage Guyana’s journalists and media personnel to be fair, balanced, and, most importantly, truthful in their reporting. As Guyana moves closer to General and Regional Elections, Guyanese can be assured that the information disseminated to them by media workers is meant to empower and inform their decision-making. The GPA will rise to the occasion of educating and informing the nation as it has done for the past 75 years.