STATEMENT BY HON. MOSES V. NAGAMOOTOO PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST VICE PRESIDENT WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY -MEDIA HAVE WATCH-DOG ROLE IN OUR DEMOCRACY
On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, I reaffirm my government’s commitment to strengthen press freedom and to protect journalists, in keeping with the hope of United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres.
In his message, the Secretary General stated that “promoting a free press is standing up for our right to truth”.
May 3 provides an opportunity to assess the state of press freedom in the world and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Observed under the theme ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law’, World Press Freedom Day is a timely reminder of the important role of the media as a watch-dog in our democracy by helping to keep government accountable by exposing any arbitrary use of and abuse of power.
Under the APNU+AFC Coalition Government, Guyana has improved its press freedom ranking in the latest Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. Guyana has moved up five places and ranked 55 among 180 countries.
Guyanese journalists are free once again to practice their profession without being subjected to state-sponsored physical attacks, terror threats to their publishing houses, or being branded “carrion crows” and “vultures”. No journalist has been prosecuted in recent years under any known criminal defamation law, or falsely imprisoned, tortured or killed in the line of duty.
Recently, several new private operatives of radio and television facilities have been licensed in a fair process. This has put a stop to the corrupt distribution by the previous government of broadcasting licenses to its political cronies as well as to the former ruling party.
The reform of the broadcasting legislation was intended to prevent abuses of those types by setting proper broadcasting requirements and standards. There is no credible report that anyone has been denied a broadcasting license by the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA), on which body there is opposition representation.
Today, Guyana has a preponderance of private media over the state. Guyanese enjoy freedom to choose and to access information and entertainment without hindrance. The state media have been rescued from their previous servile role as purveyors of partisan political propaganda. The new government has provided six new radio relay stations to inform and serve the needs of rural and hinterland communities.
While the State has taken steps to reform media practices, I caution against private media becoming the fiefdom of vested corporate interests and political parties. It is a blemish to press freedom that already sections of the private media have branded themselves as anti-government broadsheets and opposition propaganda outlets.
As a former executive of the Union of Guyanese Journalists, the Caribbean Media Workers Association and the International Organisation of Journalists (IOJ), I urge the Guyana media to play a constructive role in promoting national development.
Our State is faced with many serious challenges and I hope that journalists and their media would join in the national effort to protect our sovereignty, our environment and our national way of life. On its part, government has a duty to be transparent and it must partner with journalists and their media by providing information on a regular and timely basis.