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GPA on World Press Freedom Day

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World Press Freedom Day 2011 is being observed on Tuesday, May 3 under the theme 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers.

As outlined by the United Nations, the focus is on the potential of the Internet and digital platforms as well as the more established forms of journalism in contributing to freedom of expression, democratic governance and sustainable development.

Here in Guyana, we are stepping tentatively into the surf of the Internet wave as it relates to news media. Internet penetration and access have been the primary reasons for this state of affairs but this is changing with more affordable access to the latest mobile telephony.

The rise of social media has contributed largely to the virtually instantaneous access to newsworthy events and the implications for reportage have not been lost on Guyanese. Already we see traditional media outlets positioning themselves to extend their reach to these digital thoroughfares.

There has also been the establishment of news dissemination outlets on the new media platforms with at least one of them being a commercial venture.

The rise of new media has provided anyone with internet access and to some extent those without, a large audience unencumbered by geography with which to share their views and ideas. This in turn has spawned citizen journalism with its attendant advantages and disadvantages.

However, inherent in this power is the potential for abuse as it relates to issues of privacy and user security.

It also poses a challenge for those who may wish to keep that level of power out of the hands of the citizenry, with them resorting to measures to block or censor access.

According to the UN, “freedom of expression is central to building strong democracies; contributing to good governance; promoting civic participation and the rule of law and; encouraging human development and security.”

That hallowed right is sure to be tested here in Guyana where general elections are constitutionally due before year end. The political climate will see many exercising that right and we will be forced to ask ourselves how free is freedom.

As journalists we should remain cognizant of the political realities of Guyana even as we tread a path that redounds to the preservation of truth.

At the same time it is expected that the powers that be will treat the media in a manner befitting the oaths they have taken up in service to the people of this nation.

While access to newer social media is welcome, the absence of proper broadcast legislation and the administration’s reluctance to open the electro-magnetic spectrum to private radio stations are throwbacks to era that we all thought we had passed.

The sloth to enact the Freedom of Information Bill is hopefully not a harbinger of maximum administrative
delay.

The GPA also regrets that it cannot report any change to the status of its President who still suffers from a BAN on his ability to pursue his work at the Taxpayer’s funded Office of the President and State House.

We cannot report too on this World Press Freedom Day that there is any measurable change in the attitude of the Administration in abusing journalists and media houses or using other methods economic and miasmic to stifle criticism.

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