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Press Association, US embassy stress information access, transparency on World Press Freedom Day

The Guyana Press Association (GPA) and the United States (US) on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2016 – Tuesday- are separately highlighting the importance of Access to Information and free media in propelling Guyana’s political and economic development.

At the same time, the GPA cautioned against the potential entrenchment of criminal defamation should the Cyber Crime Bill be passed into law at a time when countries around the world are either relaxing or altogether decriminalizing defamation. “The GPA is extremely concerned that if our submission to remove this provision is not taken on board it shall enact a provision that appears to be direct contrast to the abolition of criminal defamation in several Caribbean and other countries,” the 70-year old media organisation said in a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day 2016.

The global theme of this year’s observance is “Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms- Your Right!”

The GPA also noted that this year’s observance came days after the State applied the Racial Hostility Act in relation to alleged utterances on Facebook and WhatsApp.

The American Embassy in Guyana used the opportunity to call on journalists to be responsible and professional, and strongly suggested that the media have a critical role in guarding against corruption especially in the natural resources and social sectors. “Issues of transparency and accountability, the effective and efficient use of natural resources such as oil, gold, and timber, gender equality, health care, prison reform and the justice system, and so much more, must be part of a robust public discussion in a thriving democracy like Guyana,” the diplomatic mission said.

The US noted that World Press Freedom Day 2016 is especially significant in Guyana because, as the government nears completion of its first full year in office, and on the heels of the first local government elections in over twenty-two years, “the press has a critical role in educating and informing the public on issues that are going to have a lasting impact for years to come.”

The GPA, for its part, urged journalists to take advantage of Guyana’s Access to Information regime by putting it to the test to release major aspects of otherwise confidential decision-making by the Guyana government regardless of which party is in power to help the public make wise decisions. “This will allow us as media practitioners to fulfill a major aspect of our role in imparting information to the wider public to aid them in rational decision-making that can collectively impact on the social, economic, political and cultural development of Guyana.”

The US said the media have a crucial role to play in holding government, private businesspeople and non-governmental organisations to principles of accountability and transparency as the country appears poised to move from one of the poorest countries in the Hemisphere to one of the wealthiest. “As Guyana approaches its 50th anniversary of independence it must continue institutional and capacity building not only for growth in physical infrastructure, but also in the area of intellectual freedom and growth of the press in protecting the advances the country has made thus far.

The next 50 years is likely to see tremendous change as Guyana is poised to transform from one of the poorest nations in the region to one of the wealthiest, and it will need a free press to make this transition successfully,” the US said in a statement, in apparent reference to a recent huge oil find offshore Guyana by American oil-giant, ExxonMobil.

Meanwhile, the Trinidad-headquartered Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) similarly noted that this year’s theme – “Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms” strikes at the heart of the ACM mandate to participate in the shaping of societies committed to greater openness and transparency in the conduct of public affairs through the fostering of respect for freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

“World Press Freedom Day provides us with an opportunity to collectively take stock of our status when it comes not only to Goal 16.10 of the SDGs but in the ongoing struggle to achieve much greater buy-in for the belief that press freedom has the potential to be a net contributor to development through better informed citizens benefiting from a free exchange of information, opinion, analysis and debate,” the ACM added.

This year’s activities also coincide with observance of the 15th Anniversary of the ACM. Through the years, in collaboration with its national affiliates and focal points in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, the Bahamas, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, the ACM credited itself with having contributed significantly to shining light on the press freedom challenges of the region, while maintaining a strong focus on bringing media workers in greater communion with each other across national borders and promoting professional development in the practice of journalism.

The ACM is affiliated to the International Press Institute, Global Forum for Media Development and International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX).

The ACM says it is also proud to be a part of the dialogue on free expression frameworks for Latin American and the Caribbean through the IFEX Latin American and Caribbean Alliance which, among other things, took it to the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States in 2013 as part of a successful campaign to maintain the integrity of the office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in the inter-American System.

“On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2016, as the premier representative organisation for Caribbean media workers, we offer our solidarity with regional journalists in the face of challenging times both for the practice of journalism and the viability of the traditional media industry with which we share much common ground.”