The Guyana Press Association (GPA) salutes all members of the media fraternity on World Press Freedom Day 2016 as we bring into sharper focus the importance of access to information as a critical element to our globally enshrined right of Freedom of Expression.
This year’s theme, “Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms – This Is Your Right!” is apt for not only media workers but ordinary grassroots whom we serve on a daily basis.
As the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) states, freedom of information defines the degree of openness and transparency within a society. Any limitations on the access to information side of communications, impact on the imparting side, and vice versa. The two dimensions are essential for the full exercise of the right to free expression.
In this context, the GPA welcomes President David Granger’s unequivocal commitment to guarantee a conducive environment especially in the publicly-funded Guyana Chronicle and National Communications Network (NCN) – an environment that is free from harassment and editorial dictatorship by the political directorate. We trust that such a commitment will realize the end of decades-long political interference in the media.
The GPA, therefore, takes this opportunity to urge 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.
This will allow us as media practitioners to fulfil 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. This objective is certainly in accordance with the United Nations 2030 Development Agenda’s goal (SDG number 16) to: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” and the SDG target 16.10: “Public access to information and fundamental freedoms.”
Guyana joins the rest of the world in observing World Press Freedom Day 2016 at a time when the Racial Hostility Act has been used in Guyana to institute charges in an extant case on social media.
Similarly, we have made submissions on the Cyber Crime Bill to decriminalize defamation via the use of cyberspace. We believe that if the legislation is passed in its current form, it could potentially be utilized to criminalize defamation via the Internet. 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.
Taken together, these have wider implications for press freedom and freedom of expression because those laws can be opportunistically utilized to suppress thoughts through Internet-based media such as news and current affairs websites and members of the wider public who comment on journalistic content via Social Media. At the same time, the GPA urges its members and the wider Guyanese public to recognise that Freedom of Expression is circumscribed by limitations in the public interest and must not be used irresponsibly to the detriment of others.
The GPA, therefore, looks forward to increasing and strengthening collaboration with Caribbean and international organisations in creating greater national awareness about access to information, legislative impediments and likely technological barriers as the media in Guyana transition to Internet-based platforms or converge with conventional radio, television and newspapers.
All the best for World Press Freedom Day 2016!