GPA warns govt against spying on journalists

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  —President Ali says administration has not ‘imagined’ such actions  

President Irfaan Ali said it has not entered the imagination of his Government to use spyware or any kind of malware to spy on journalists and or citizens of the country.

“This Government has no [such] intention whatsoever,” the Head of State said as he responded to concerns raised by the President of the Guyana Press Association (GPA) Nazima Raghubir during the opening ceremony of the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) Conference at the Arthur Chung Conference Center (ACCC) last Tuesday.

World Press Freedom Day is being observed today, May 3, 2022 under the theme “Journalism under digital siege.” In keeping with that theme, the GPA President said technology has exposed the media to destructive intrusions by Ransomware and Spyware which pose the severe risk of threatening the financial and technological existence of media houses.

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Raghubir said it important for media houses to safeguard themselves as well as the government to assure media houses and operatives that such tactics would not be used to threaten the work of the media. Raghubir also iterated GPA’s long held position that the Cyber Crime Legislation which criminalises how journalists access and receive information threatens their work, and ought to be assured.

It was at this point that she called on President Ali to disclose whether the Government is in possession of spyware. “Given the fact that the President will be speaking after me, it will be important for us to hear directly whether the Government is in possession of spyware or plans to acquire and use it, especially on journalists,” the GPA President said

In response, President Ali said his Government has no such intention. According to him, it was never even contemplated by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration.

“It will never happen, at least [not] under this government, it will never happen. And wherever it exists it should be rooted out because no government should be spying on their population. None! Not in the democratic construct of a free society,” the Head of State said.

A spyware is a software that enables a user to obtain covert information about another’s computer activities by transmitting data covertly from their hard drive.

President Ali reminded that it was under the APNU+AFC Administration that the Cyber Crime Bill was passed. “The Cyber Crime Bill was passed in 2018 and this Member of Parliament then, along with the Opposition, what did we do? We spoke out against this, we objected to it, we placed amendments on the table, and the then Government disregarded all of those amendments and went ahead with the Bill,” he pointed out.

POST CABINET PRESS BRIEFING
Government’s failure to host post-Cabinet press briefing was among other issues raised by the GPA President. “…we hope that after two years there will be more than just the commitment to return to the post-cabinet briefings but these could actually become a reality in the near future,” Raghubir said.

But Ali while underscoring the importance of “balance” and “fairness” in reporting, and acknowledging that a commitment was indeed given to have post-cabinet press briefing, boasted that his Government has been the most accessible.

“Yes, it must be done; yes, commitments to have it done were made,” he said while boasting that he and his government have been engaging citizens and journalists on the ground since taking office. Noting that journalists and other media operatives play a leading role in educating and advocating, the GPA President said the media must be given the necessary tools to do their job. “…these tools come from not only media owners but the atmosphere created and fostered in a country,” she said.

She added: We need assurances that we would be able to do our jobs without fear, fear of intimidation and or threats and most of all the rights and freedoms associated with the work of the media must be respected at all times. Raghubir said during the COVID-19 pandemic the media experienced different types of challenges, such as limited access to government and other key officials necessary for gathering as well as communicating key information on the very developmental process.

Additionally, she said media viability continues to be threatened. “Then the broadcasters and now broadcasters continue to face hefty license fees in the face of dwindling revenue based expedited by the pandemic. With this said, there has also been a call for government ads to be spread across equally to both traditional and online media outlets,” she said.

It was noted that despite the pandemic, the press association conducted training on a number of critical areas of development.



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