As provided for under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the protection and promotion of a free, independent, and diverse media in all forms is crucial to the functioning of inclusive, peaceful, and democratic societies across the world. Additionally, Article 146 of the Constitution of Guyana guarantees freedom of expression. However, one must wonder to what extent, if any, should state-funded or controlled agencies such as the Guyana National Newspapers Limited (i.e., Guyana Chronicle) and National Communications Network (NCN) be used to mislead or blatantly lie to the people of Guyana?
Although the state-operated Guyana Chronicle and NCN have historically favoured the government of the day, such practices have taken on a whole new meaning under the APNU+AFC regime. The Guyana Chronicle, whose board of directors is appointed by the government, has descended into a full-blown propaganda machine that stinks of partisanship and state interference at every corner. Ironically, this newspaper, if you can call it that, is overseen by beleaguered former Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, whose earlier career as a journalist placed him at the forefront of the fight for press freedom when none existed in Guyana. Similarly, NCN which receives subsidies and contributions from the Prime Minister’s office has been equally partisan as reflected in news programmes, elections coverage, and guest appearances.
In its 2020 Freedom of the World Report, the research institute and think tank, Freedom House noted that there have been “concerns over the editorial independence of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle” in recent years. In fact, one does not need to rely on Freedom House to highlight the extent of state meddling or one-sided reporting in the Guyana Chronicle or NCN. One only needs to quickly glance at the headlines or news coverage on any given day, especially since March 2.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me is the page one headline of the Sun-day, July 12, 2020, edition of the Guyana Chronicle that reads “APNU+AFC Wins”. This repugnant headline not only flies in the face of decent and honest reporting but is also irresponsible and utterly wick-ed. The whole world knows that the APNU+AFC did not win the March 2 elections. To use state resources to communicate anything else is despicable and an insult to independent-minded Guyanese and taxpayers as a whole.
While the Fourth Estate’s role is fundamentally important in developing countries like Guyana, this abhorrent assault on our collective intelligence and on the back of taxpayers needs to stop. And while it is duly recognized that the behaviour of these state-run media agencies will not change unless and until a transfer of power takes place, any promise or assurance that they will be free of political interference if and when such a transfer takes place will not suffice. Therefore, it is incumbent on the next government to divest any and all state interest in the media. A competent and transparent government does not need a mouthpiece. They should let their policies, performance, and good governance do the talking.