By Guyana Times,
On the heels of the previous Government stifling some media enterprises by withholding State advertisements, the new PPP/C Administration has assured that it will not engage in such practices as it respects the freedom of the press and the critical role the “fourth estate” plays in national development.
The commitment was given by Prime Minister Mark Phillips during a recent interview with this newspaper at his office at Colgrain House, Georgetown.
The Prime Minister – who has responsibility for the country’s information sector – was asked how his Government intends to ensure the fair distribution of State ads to media entities in Guyana.
According to the PM, the new PPP/C Administration has already started the process of ensuring equal distribution of advertisements in the newspapers, noting that very soon, even online outlets will start to benefit.
“We’ve removed the discriminatory practices. If you look at the newspapers now, there are State ads in all of the newspapers in Guyana,” PM Phillips pointed out.
Minister of Public Affairs, Kwame McCoy had previously announced that online media houses have now been added to the list of existing agencies to receive Government advertisements.
PM Phillips explained that this is a step in the right direction since online media entities are becoming more and more popular – especially among the younger population – in accessing the news.
Under the previous David Granger-led APNU/AFC Administration, State ads were drastically reduced from newspapers that were critical of the then coalition Government.
The situation intensified during the electoral season, when the former regime was facing widespread criticisms for its failure to hold elections as was constitutionally required after it was defeated by a No-Confidence Motion on December 21, 2018.
For this newspaper, advertisements generated through the Department of Public Information’s (DPI) Advertising Department reached an all-time low by the end of October 2019 – with the media house receiving only one State ad for the month of September and none for October.
The issue was formally raised with DPI’s Director at the time, Imran Khan, but the matter was never addressed.
In its official correspondence to DPI, Guyana Times had pointed out that the publication only received a total of $20,930 in ads from the State agency in September 2019. This, it was outlined, is against the backdrop of advertisements being proliferated consistently to the other dailies, especially to the State-owned Guyana Chronicle and Kaieteur News, during the same period.
Another daily newspaper, the Stabroek News, reported that it was facing similar discriminatory practices. Stabroek News had accused the Government of attempting to muzzle the media house for being outspoken against the coalition’s violation of the Constitution of Guyana following the December 2018 passage of the No-Confidence Motion.
Information received by this newspaper had shown that between January 1 and September 19, 2019 – a total of $177,114,612 was paid by DPI for newspaper ads. Of that amount, Guyana Times only received a mere eight per cent, while Kaieteur News got 37 per cent, Stabroek News received 30 per cent and Guyana Chronicle 25 per cent.
Meanwhile, during the period of June 2015 to September 2019, the data showed that Guyana Times only received 10 per cent of ads, while Stabroek News got 26 per cent; Kaieteur News, 27 per cent, and Guyana Chronicle received 37 per cent.
But PM Phillips said those practices are of the past, noting that the PPP/C Government welcomes constructive criticisms.
“The Government continues to be criticised by many of the newspapers in Guyana but we still put State ads there…freedom of the press…is an issue that we respect and hold highly as we seek to govern Guyana,” the Prime Minister expressed.
“Like any Government in any country, we will be criticised, we know that. For the criticisms that we consider constructive, that itself will help us in reformulating our policies that will better help us to govern,” he added.
In October 2019, the then Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had argued that all private media outfits should benefit equally from the State ads, despite their editorial position.
Jagdeo, who himself was criticised for the unequal State ads distribution during his presidency, admitted that his approach was wrong at that time.
Based on his past decisions on this matter, Jagdeo – who is now Vice President – had noted that going forward, the new PPP/C Administration will have a new approach in this regard.
“Looking forward, I think we must have, in the new Government, an arrangement where all the private media benefit from State assets. State ads must not be used in a punitive manner,” Jagdeo had posited.
Main photo: Prime Minister Mark Phillips