Caribbean media houses flag unfair distribution of state ads

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—report says ‘favoured media houses, social media commentators cashing in

The Association of Caribbean Mediaworkers (ACM), in its just released report – ‘Through the Pandemic: State of the Caribbean Media Report 2022 – said long before the deadly Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic media houses in Guyana were already battling a shrinking advertising pie. The situation, it said, is compounded with State Ads being offered to a selected group.

“While there were no reports of loss of jobs or salary cuts due to the pandemic, media houses cited the lack of adequate state advertising as among their concerns. Some raised concerns about favoured media houses and social media commentators who continue to receive state advertising through government ministries for favourable coverage,” a section of the report reads. It was noted that under the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Administration pre-August 2020, the pie became smaller with the granting of more ratio and television licenses as operators tried to secure whatever business advertising was there to share.

MEDIA FREEDOM
According to the report, the press in Guyana remains fairly free and open, however, it is often reflective of the political division in the country with some media houses showing bias.

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“While there are exceptions to this, media workers continue to face challenges in accessing information from government and officials,” the report states.

It further noted that since the return of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to Office, there has been no post cabinet press engagements despite promises by the Head of State.

“President Mohamed Ali has held few press conferences and has resorted to briefings or statements in the state media,” it said while noting that interviews on matters of national importance are often limited to social media commentators and media houses deemed to be government friendly.

“These include interviews done by the Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo,” the report pointed out, while adding that Jagdeo, in his capacity as Opposition Leader pre-August 2020 held weekly press conferences.

“The main Parliamentary Opposition members are also known for providing interviews to opposition friendly media houses. They are also known to provide recorded statements leaving little room for clarification. In early 2022 Leader of the PNC Aubrey Norton sought to chastise media workers for not asking questions based on the party’s statement,” it added.

IMPACT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The pandemic, ACM said, brought with it many challenges, particularly during the first months, during which many journalists were required to cover the elongated General and Regional Elections that spanned for a period of 5 months.

Initially, the pandemic affected the coverage of both the Parliament and the Courts. “While Parliament is often streamed live, COVID-19 guidelines were in effect and reporters were limited in the Parliamentary space. However, reporters were allowed to view the proceedings from another part of the building,” it further explained.

According to the report, coverage of the lower courts remains an issue as only one reporter is allowed in one courtroom. That reporter is required to share information with a pool of reporters.

“This continues to be problematic as sometimes for varying reasons, the reporter may be barred from entering the courtroom,” it said while adding that there are only a few virtual hearings in the lower courts, and only on the request of the Guyana Press Association were reporters allowed access to an election related matter.

Additionally, it said that while there were no immediate physical or violent threats to the media or media workers in recent past, during the 5-month election in 2020, several workers were harassed on the streets and online while providing coverage.

“Journalists were also singled out by politicians during that period for ridicule. This is often the case, as a few politicians singled out media houses and reporters. There are online forums including Facebook pages that are operated by known politicians that also target media workers,” the report states.

It also addressed the challenges posed by the Cybercrime Legislation.

“There are sections in the bill that criminalises methods journalists use to gather information. Despite several calls for this to be addressed, the Act remains the same. Since its passage in 2018, there have been criticisms of its use by governments. Several persons in and out of politics have accused the police and government of misusing the law to target their freedom of expression,” it explained.

Further, it pointed out that in 2022, the government reappointed Charles Ramson Snr as

Commissioner of Information, signaling its intention of activating the processes for providing access to information. Ramson who is a former Attorney General was integral in the passage of the Access to Information law after which he was appointed Commissioner of Information, a post he held for many years.

The report also underscored the need for media workers to be continuously trained, though GPA offers a high level of training.

The ACM report also featured several other countries including Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago among others.



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