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Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy (Walter Cronkite- renowned American broadcaster). Whilst Guyana could boast of having multiplicity of media-print and broadcasting- Guyana cannot make any serious claim to having the multiplicity of views through the media. Several media houses are either aligned or sympathetic to the government. They propagate, without question, the government’s messages and silence the views of others.
Where the information highway is controlled primarily by one source, in plural and politically hypersensitive societies such as ours, inevitably diverse expressions will be stifled. Government non-aligned media are controlled in this environment. The fact that the government has most of the advertising revenue-which is the taxpayers’ money- independent media houses are tempted to engage in self-censorship, even if this compromises the integrity of the profession, for fear of not wanting to offend lest they be denied. This is a form of media repression.
Media repression nurtures and gives cover to dictatorial government, and the marginalisation and oppression of the masses. Free and unfettered press is important to democracy. Democracy thrives in openness and democratic governments are not afraid of their citizens. In fact, they rely on the press as proof that democracy is well and alive under their leadership. In Guyana, the media landscape is not fair or truly fearless.
Save for a few committed to professional journalism, democracy cannot survive much less flourish in any environment where taxpayers’ money could be used to stifle the voices of some of the very taxpayers. And to the extent where media houses are being denied equitable participation in government advertisement and/or private businesses are hesitant to advertise with them, lest they incur the wrath of government or their allies, their economic viability is threatened. When free media is threatened democracy is threatened.
It is against the aforesaid variables that the non-payment of licence fees by broadcasters should be understood. Whilst the National Communications Network (NCN) is named amongst Kaieteur News Radio, CN Sharma Television, Mark Benschop Radio, HGPTV, WRHM, Blackman Radio, et al, NCN is state-owned. The government could either write off NCN’s debt or offset the payment in some other form. The other defaulters are expected to pay when they, like other businesses, have been adversely impacted by the pandemic and have not been recipients of government advertisements or received negligible amounts.
In other world economies governments have provided stimulus packages, soft loans, grants and debt forgiveness to businesses and other vulnerable groups who would have been impacted by the pandemic. Where free and unfettered press remains pivotal to democracy the Government of Guyana should take a compassionate approach in ensuring the survival of those who have defaulted on licence payment and equitably distribute state advertisements to all media houses