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State media should favour government’s view- Nagamootoo

Prime Minister Nagamootoo (backing camera) speaking with Guyana Chronicle reporter, Derwayne Wills clad in plaid shirt)

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo believes that articles carried in the Guyana Chronicle should favour the perspective of government, saying that he was “very, very concerned” about a headline in the state-owned Guyana Chronicle newspaper.

Nagamootoo, who during the second sitting of the Eleventh (11th) Parliament was reported by the State-owned Guyana Chronicle newspaper as saying that the paper had been recently transformed from a partisan, propagandistic rag to a bastion of public information, told this to reporters who bombarded him with questions following revelations that he expressed concerns about the headline of an article appearing in the Tuesday edition of the State-owned paper to the article’s author, Derwayne Wills.

The headline read ‘Govt Blunders on Budget Estimates…violates laws assented to by President Granger.’

As the consideration of the 2015 Estimates drew on, several reporters noticed Nagamootoo speaking with Wills and after the conversation asked him if his conversation with the reporter concerned the article he had written.

While the Prime Minister acknowledged that he is “very, very, very disappointed with the headline,” he said “I am not aware of what you are talking about,” when asked if he raised his disappointment with the reporter.

“I have not spoken to the reporter about the matter…I was walking when the reporter came up to me and we had a discussion about the article,” Nagamootoo told reporters. Wills, however, explained to reporters that he “was actually going to do an interview with him, I identified myself as Derwayne Wills of the Guyana Chronicle and he expressed some concern about today’s issue of the Guyana Chronicle…”

Wills said that Nagamootoo “explained to me that he had concerns about the headline, however he indicated that he did not read the article.” The reporter said that he asked the Prime Minister what article he would have suggested, “He said he would have put it along the line of Government-Opposition compromise on Budget Estimates.”

When further pressed on whether or not he brought up the matter with the reporter Nagamootoo repeatedly advised reporters to “ask the gentleman.” The barrage of questions was maintained, however, prompting the Prime Minister to again exclaim “I said to ask the reporter,” why you asking me?”

Despite these assertions, Nagamootoo eventually admitted that his discussion with the reporter was “triggered by a headline I saw in the Chronicle newspaper and we had a conversation…”

He said “I was disappointed. I was very disappointed. I didn’t think that it was an objective headline in the sum total of what transpired yesterday in the Parliament.”

He went on to argue that “it is a government paper and I would expect that for a paper that it has a point of view that supports a government perspective…here is a case where there was a resolution of a problem, a compromise having been arrived at…”

Continuing, Nagamootoo said that the Guyana Chronicle “…is a government newspaper…it is a fully supported established company of the State…one would expect that it would merit the views of government not the ruling party.”

When asked by a senior reporter whether his statements are to be taken as an indication that the State-owned media ought to toe the government’s line, the Minister said “I can’t answer you that.”

The Prime Minister later issued a statement, reinforcing his disappointment with the Guyana Chronicle’s headline.

The Prime Minister states: I have not spoken with the editor over this matter though I felt; as Minister with responsible for public information, that the headline did not do justice to what actually transpired as, there was a resolution of complaints by the opposition that a section of the budget was not properly structured to bring it in line with requirements of the Guyana Constitution. 

Similar representation has been made during previous budget presentations of the former PPP government with regards to allocations for constitutional agencies, and had been resolved after bi-partisan consultations, as was the case yesterday, before consideration of the estimates started.

The Guyana Government does not agree with the Opposition that the estimates violate any laws but agreed to adjust the structure of the estimates to specify block votes for certain public agencies.  

I had expected that greater care ought to have been exercised by the Guyana Chronicle before coming to the erroneous conclusion that the government had blundered on either the presentation or compilation of the estimates of expenditures.  

I had expected better from a government-owned newspaper.

Wills “feels strongly that there is nothing wrong with the article.” He further said that “in no way at all did I take anything out of context,” arguing that “it was basic reporting style, comments attribution all these things…I have absolutely nothing wrong with the article at all.”

He also said that he is prepared to “stand strongly by my headline because I feel it was an accurate reflection of what happened yesterday.”

The A Partnership for National Unity+ Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition had during the 2015 general elections promised a professionally run state media free of political interference.

Demerara Waves was told that government’s concerns about the headline were raised with a editor at the newspaper.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge was also said to be similarly taken back by the headline and raised his concerns with the reporter.

During a break in the 2015 National Budget debate last week, Nagamootoo was heard telling a cameraman from the State-owned National Communications Network (NCN) last week that they should interview government ministers during the break. He had originally wanted to speak with an NCN reporter.

The issue of government interference in the state media is nothing new to Guyana because administrations led by the People’s National Congress and the People’s Progressive Party Civic have done so for more than 30 years.