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Media policy looming; government says agencies must be responsible

Minister of State Joseph Harmon announced Friday August 28 that government is considering a media policy, but has not fully completed the process.

The minister was at the time answering questions at Cabinet’s weekly press briefing when he explained that media is an important element in governance which has to enact a level of responsibility.

Harmon was also addressing a number of issues which arose earlier in the week where it is alleged that Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo upbraided a state media journalist for a headline that he perceived was not in the government’s favour. It was also alleged on an online new site that the Prime Minister’s Director of Public Information, Imran Khan claimed that all news headline for the state newspaper would go through the Prime Minister’s office –which has responsibility for information- before it is printed. Khan has since denied such claims.

Harmon told the press that, “The media, as the fourth estate, is an important element in the governance of a country and therefore it is not something you can touch or do as you want.” He said, however,  that it’s the early days yet, but he believes, “that a policy will emerge. But what we are saying now is that the media must act responsibly and that if you are reporting on government business, you must be fair balanced and objective.”

He said that government is crafting things in this country that are responsible. “We have now a situation where there is a greater degree of openness, we are publishing more information,” and making it available to the media and the public is being made aware and are now connected.

This new policy while not specified by the minister seemed to be going to those private and public media entities. Regulating media has always been a matter of contention involving politicians

Last year September, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall said he was instructed by then President Donald Ramotar to craft a policy. He  had stated at that time that media entities must be accountable, “but to whom do they account to, who watches the watchdog…”

Prime Minister Nagamootoo, in the opposition at the time had stated that media personnel work under a Code of Conduct, and any attempt to put special rules or bodies in place to regulate the media must be resisted.  The Guyana Press Association and the regional umbrella Association of Caribbean Media Workers have consistently advocated that that media entities must always be self-regulatory.

Nagamootoo, who is a former journalist, has reiterated his grave disappointment with a headline- “Government blunders on budget estimates”- in a recent edition of the State-owned Guyana Chronicle  which he described as a “government-owned newspaper.”

The Guyana Chronicle, in an editorial, has even gone further to justify why it should toe the line of the government of the day.