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US Ambassador, Attorney General talk tough on media censorship

Several journalists and media managers who received awards on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2014. Ambassador Hardt is at centre.

United States Ambassador, Brent Hardt and Attorney General, Anil Nandlall were Friday night at odds over the censorship of Guyanese media.

Addressing a reception in honour of World Press Freedom Day 2014 that is being observed on May 3 under the theme “Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” the American envoy declared that government’s “opposition media” description of privately-owned media that are not in bed with administration “inaccurate” and “demeaning”.

Hardt said evidence shows that views that are critical of the government were being largely shut out from the state media.
“Anyone who reads or watches independent media in Guyana will see that there are letters to the editor supportive of the government, columns that advocate government positions, and generally balanced reporting on actions of government.
By contrast, in the state-owned and state-run media, which should hold itself up to an even higher standard of balance by virtue of its being funded by taxpayers, one hardly ever sees a letter to the editor or a column supportive of the opposition or critical of the government,” he said.

The American Ambassador suggested that government cease censorship and engage its critics side by side. “Such censorship is not only wrong, but completely unnecessary for a government that is more than capable of defending and articulating its views on a fair playing field of public opinion. As the distinguished U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once observed: “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.”

Ambassador Hardt encouraged media practitioners not to be afraid to ask tough follow-up questions and demand that decision-makers support their claims with evidence. He also weighed in on the absence pf current affairs content on privately-owned radio statios although the radio broadcasting spectrum has been liberalized. “Where in other countries the radio with its ubiquitous call-in shows was a vital public forum, in Guyana there was no such counterpart. Two years later, it is certainly disappointing that radio in Guyana still falls short of offering an open public square for debate and discussion.

Reacting in his address, Attorney General Anil Nandlall retraced Guyana’s history of press suppression under the Peoples National Congress (PNC) administration such as the restriction of newspaper imports and the beating and killing of media workers. Nandlall pointed to the availability of a wide variety of media houses that have sprung up and denied there was any attempt to censor journalists. The Attorney General, however, did not address the specific concerns that the Ambassador raised about the misuse of the State media. Rather, he used the opportunity to assure that government was not intervening in the content of privately-owned media. “There is absolutely no attempt by the administration of which I am a part to influence what those private media houses publish at all. There is no attempt to censor any journalist practicing his trade or professional pursuit in this country. None at all,” he said.

He said unlike privately-owned media, the state media were not driven by profit but were being used to disseminate information to far flung communities.

Nandlall used the opportunity to accuse the opposition of stifling press freedom by refusing to approve budgetary allocations to the National Communications Network (NCN) and the Government Information Agency (GINA).
Several journalists and media organisations were awarded by the US Ambassador for their coverage of various aspects of news.