Media’s role in ensuring stability during elections discussed at World Press Freedom Day forum

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Journalists are being called upon to strive for unbiased reporting as the country prepares for new general elections.

The call came at an event by the Guyana Press Association Thursday to mark World Press Freedom Day.

The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.”

Speaking at a panel discussion Thursday evening at the Moray House in Georgetown, Dr Steve Surujbally, former Chair of the Guyana Elections Commission, pointed to the need for journalists to avoid biased reporting as the country approaches another elections period.

He said journalists are given an important job to ensure that situations do not escalate as a result of careless utterances by those in leadership positions.

Dr Steve Surujbally, former Chair of the Guyana Elections Commission, [GPA photo]
“Developing social turbulences, especially if they are promoted by specific sections of the media may create a momentum that becomes a force of its own and we can’t stop it,” Dr Steve Surujbally stated.

Dr Surujbally referred to various instances in Guyana and around the world where what is said on television and radio programs led to major rioting and other tragedies.

The former GECOM Chair called for a stronger will to monitor media content, especially as the country heads into another elections period. He referred to the Media Monitoring Unit (MMU) set up by GECOM around elections time and noted that a budgetary allocation should be provided to GECOM to establish the MMU.

There are approximately 20 television stations and 12 radio stations in Guyana currently.

Another guest on the panel was human rights consultant Lawrence Lachmansingh who noted that “over the years, there has been an effort to measure how well or unwell the media is, in terms of their own bias.”

He said bias tends to reinforce social division.

Human Rights Consultant Lawrence Lachmansingh [GPA photo]
In this regard, he switched attention to the state-owned media houses which are used to peddle information in support of one side.

“The state media has a particularly high threshold in this regard since it is owned by us. So it is a conflict of interest…when you take advantage of the state media for the purposes of the ruling party.”

This has been ongoing over the years and according to Lachmansingh, undermines the fairness of an election.

The Guyana Press Association in its statement to observe World Press Freedom Day called out media houses that are politically aligned, saying this results in a deliberate blurring of the lines of freedom of expression.

This, the body said, destroys the essence of the ethical standards and principles that journalists are expected to abide by in the delivery of news and information.

At the same time, the Press Association called on politicians to cease attacking media houses when factual stories are written that they do not like.

As Guyana enters the period of electioneering, the Association also urges the media to produce content that explores issues of democracy, peace and reconciliation.

In his message to mark the occasion, António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General said “no democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information.

“It is the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions, holding leaders accountable and speaking truth to power.”

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