Friday, May 4, 2012

NCN, GINA bemoan press association body silence following AFC/APNU attacks in Press Freedom Day messages

Both the National Communication Network(NCN) and Government Information Agency(GINA) issued  World Press Freedom Day messages in which they noted the silence of the GPA and GHRA following what opposition attacks on state media employees after they voted to withhold government subventions for both state media entities putting over 50 of their employees out of jobs.

NCN World Press Freedom Day message:

The Management and staff of the National Communications Networks Inc join the world in observing World Press Freedom on May 3, 2012. We note the sentiments of the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director-General Ms Irina Bokova and join them in condemning the killing of 62 journalists who died as a result of their work and echo their call to remember these journalists and these crimes which should not remain unpunished.

We note that this year’s World Press Freedom Day is centered on the theme of "New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies." We also feel strongly that media workers need the protection of Governments and Civic society as the new media, facilitated by greater access to the worldwide web, moves online thus producing more online journalists, including bloggers, who are being harassed, attacked, and killed for their work Globally.

In Guyana we have worked hard over the years to emerge from the dark days of dictatorship andrestrictions on the freedom of information (and an almost total lack of press freedom). We live in a society that receives a wide variety of views from four daily newspapers, nineteen television stations, Satellite and cable television services and unrestricted access to the internet. We are fortunate to have a Government which is planning to make over 70% of our population computer literate by the provision of laptops and internet access through the OLPF and E-Governance programs. We would like to lend our voices to those who are calling for reconsideration of over 20 billion dollars worth of budget cuts the majority of which will delay or cancel the cluster of Government programmes aimed at increasing broadband internet access across our country thus working against the very spirit of this year’s world Press Freedom Day theme.

Another globally acknowledged fact is that it is important to facilitate the building of capacity in any developing democracy. The Freedom House Report highlights this fact as follows: “In nearly all countries that have undergone a democratic transition since the 1980s, it is widely acknowledged that a major factor that hobbles media development is the lack of skills. Newspapers and broadcast stations liberated from the constraints imposed by dictatorship find that reporting on a democracy requires new skills and fresh talent. Freedom alone does not suffice.”

The 2012 World Press Freedom Day takes place at an historic juncture in the history of Guyana. For the first time in our history, the combined opposition has cut the subvention to the National Communications Networks and Government Information Agency thus reducing the opportunities for the development of media in Guyana and restricting the number of jobs available to young media workers in Guyana. No one can dispute that most of the professional journalists and media workers in Guyana were able to hone their skills and develop as professionals through their early employment in the Government owned media operations. Regrettably a large proportion of these jobs will be lost to future generations of journalists simply because media workers in Guyana are being used as bargaining chips by an insensitive opposition who make no apology for what they term as collateral damage.

More importantly we do not believe that the Parliamentary opposition analysed and examined the impact of their actions as there is a real possibility that Guyanese would be denied services and broadcast of popular programmes, international sporting events such as cricket, football and Olympics and opportunities lost for the showcasing of our culture, talent and entrepreneurial enterprises.

What is even more regrettable is that the lives and jobs of journalists and media workers on World Press Freedom day 2012 are being curtailed while the private media, the Guyana Human Rights Association, and the Guyana Press Association refuse to speak out in support of these professionals. Their silence can only be regarded as support for a dastardly act as the opposition moves to muzzle the voice of the Government through withholding the subventions of GINA and NCN.

The elimination of media jobs is also a concern for the Labor movement and we commend the unions of FITUG for their condemnation of the loss of jobs in their Labor day messages. At the same time note the actions of the GPSU president Mr. Patrick Yards and his defense of the budget cuts which will result in a reduction of job opportunities for the youths of Guyana. The stand taken by the GPSU is reminiscent of the role of that trade union during our days of dictatorship which illustrated their tendency to hypocritically support their true masters. How sad it is that a Trade Union in Guyana can find the wherewithal to justify and support the loss of Jobs and the reduction of our national workforce.

We the workers of NCN call on all responsible members of this noble profession and civic society to condemn this move to muzzle the press and take us back to the days when freedom of the press in Guyana was nonexistent.

GINA World Press Freedom Day message: 

The observance of World Press Freedom Day 2012 here in Guyana would surely be shrouded in gloom following the actions of the combined Opposition to reduce the budget of the Government Information Agency (GINA) to one dollar. Their intent to close the Agency is clear given its effectiveness in executing its mandate. The reality is that all the staff stand to lose their jobs thereby jeopardising their ability to meet financial and family commitments. To force such an imposition on hard-working media professionals, can only be seen as a wanton attack on press freedom.

On this day, almost exclusively, the suppression of freedom of expression through authoritative means by some governments, is brought into focus. There is a plethora of examples in some countries of media entities being threatened or closed, media operatives being incarcerated with some, unfortunately, losing their lives in the cause. In the past, some private media workers here felt the brunt of such oppression with one principal operative being killed under questionable circumstances. Also during that time, one entity was repeatedly deprived of its right to import related printing materials in an effort to silence it.

Since 1992, freedom of expression has been restored, catalysing the rapid and continuous expansion of the private media. The free and openly extreme, critical analyses of the government, I dare say, rabid and seditious at times, are indicative of the freedoms the press now enjoy. Over the last two decades no media house was closed in exercising its right to such freedom and no media operative incarcerated in executing his/her constitutional right to freedom of expression. This clearly has to be an envious position by media operatives who are deprived of such rights and freedoms in some countries where those governments are guilty of media oppression.

The cut of GINA’s budgetary allocation in Parliament has placed Guyana in a unique position where it is the Opposition that has engineered action to deprive the professional media staff of their jobs and not the government. One can only hope that better sense will prevail and whatever leverage the Opposition has in the National Assembly would be used meaningfully and not to cause hardships. What is even more alarming is that the Guyana Press Association (GPA) has been noticeably silent on this issue.

It is unfortunate that the GPA, which is never hesitant to make its voice heard on other related issues, has not seen the possible disbandment of GINA and the displacement of its staff as an attack on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Given this year’s theme of, “Media Freedom helping to transform societies” to mark this day, it is unfortunate that the information that GINA disseminates which does exactly that, is now under threat from reaching those who have a right to be informed.

Best wishes to all media workers across Guyana!

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