Jagdeo blames Press Association for poor global press freedom rating

Last Updated on Friday, 5 May 2023, 18:27 by Denis Chabrol

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday blamed the Guyana Press Association (GPA) for  the 26-point dip in the global press freedom index by the international watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, even as the Guyana government did not oppose the establishment of a new media organisation.

“I think that the Press Association and this big hype, knowing that the report was coming out now and Guyana suddenly dropped 26 points on the report; they knew the report was coming out and I think it was an orchestrated attempt by some media practitioners …who are politically aligned to stir up issues that are non-issues knowing that it would influence the ranking,” Mr Jagdeo said. He said that everything the GPA stated was reflected in the international accounts of the state of press freedom in Guyana.

The latest RSF ratings that were released to coincide with World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) that is observed annually on May 3 show that Guyana’s rating has declined from 34 to 60.  In recent weeks, President Irfaan Ali and the opposition Chief Scrutineer Carol Smith Joseph had been criticised sharply for their approach to media operatives. The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also been paying attention to recent press freedom concerns in Guyana.

Recently Mr Jagdeo defended his decision to go after critics and organisations that at the same time he had repeatedly contended have no mandate to speak on issues such as human rights, transparency and accountability. In addition to pasting them in the political corner of the political opposition, Mr Jagdeo had justified his stance on the ground that they influence the international community.

For its part, the GPA said in its World Press Freedom Day statement that the government appeared bent on taking steps to take over the GPA by using its leverage in the State-owned and privately-owned pro-government media in order to prevent the truth from being related to global and international bodies about Guyana’s media climate. “The GPA is of the clear and unambiguous position that the government’s sole interest is to control the narrative of the reality of the Guyanese media landscape locally, regionally and internationally,” the association said.

Public Affairs Minister Kwame Mc Coy sought to label the GPA as a political opponent and did not hide his favourable position towards any effort to form a new media association though he denied that government was part of such an effort. “We are operating in a democracy and there is absolutely nothing wrong with any group wanting to represent the interest of any constituency… you could have two press associations… for me, it’s healthy competition. For me, it brings greater benefit t0 people because it would allow them to compete for interest,” he said. He urged a review of the GPA’s rules as many persons, including those on Social Media, have complained about being “locked out” of membership.

While saying that journalists should not be singled out because of the editorial policies of a number of media houses, he again specifically referred to the President of the GPA Nazima Raghubir and questioned whether anyone realises that she “pathologically hates” his governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

Mr Jagdeo sounded a dislike for anything factual but unfavourable reference to the PPP in GPA statements about concerns about the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform.

The Vice President chided Western Ambassadors for not referring a World Justice Project Report that he said states that 45 percent of the media in Guyana is corrupt or mostly corrupt. He also fretted about the American, British, Canadian and European Union ambassadors urging that press interviews should not be granted selectively. “Imagine the international community saying that!,” before he went on to query whether US President Joe Biden was being seen on Fox News or President Trump on CNN. “Those are not the indicators of press freedom.”

Mr Jagdeo described as “unbelievable” the level of tolerance in Guyana and sought to assure that press freedom in Guyana is “secure” under the PPP. “We believe in press freedom, we fight to maintain press freedom, we believe that journalists should be treated with respect,” he said.

During Mr Jagdeo’s presidency, journalist Gordon Moseley had been banned from presidential assignments at State House and the Office of the President;  government advertisements to the privately-owned Stabroek News had been stopped and CNS ‘Sharma’ TV licence had been suspended. Advertisements to Stabroek News had been only restored after a Caribbean-wide outcry and a brand new publication, Guyana Times, had started operations and had been allocated government ads. Sections of the media had been called by him ‘opposition media’,  ‘vultures’ and ‘carrion crows’. Those attacks had abated under the Donald Ramotar presidency and to a large extent when Mr Jagdeo was Opposition Leader.

Under the People’s National Congress-led administration, Catholic Standard photographer and Jesuit Priest Bernard Darke had been stabbed to death while taking pictures of members of the then pro-government House of Israel religious organisation outside the Ministry of Home Affairs; newsprint for the Catholic Standard newspaper and the PPP’s publication, Mirror, had been severely restricted. Foreign news programmes that had contained reports about labour and political unrest in Guyana and perspectives against the government had been removed before broadcast and the unedited programmes sent to Office of the President.

Under both the PNC and PPP-led administrations, the state-owned newspaper, radio and television stations have been tightly controlled to virtually shut out any opposition criticisms of the government while pushing the agenda of the government and the ruling party of the day. During 2015 to 2020, the David Granger-led administration had gone as far as axing two pro-government columnists, Dr David Hinds and Lincoln Lewis, from the State-owned Guyana Chronicle newspaper because they had criticised his administration.