Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Press Freedom? #1

The Government Information Agency (GINA) has withdrawn advertisements from Stabroek News on the instructions of Dr Nanda Gopaul, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President.

David de Caires, Editor-in-Chief of the Stabroek News, said today that since the beginning of November 2006, the Advertising Manager Ms P. Cumbermack reported a significant reduction in the booking of advertisements from this agency which handles all the ads of government ministries. Indeed, she later advised that except for advertisements from the Guyana Revenue Authority dealing with the impending Value Added Tax no other bookings were being received from GINA.

Several efforts were made to contact Dr Prem Misir, the Director of GINA, to discuss this matter but he did not accept nor return any telephone calls.

On the 3rd January, 2007 de Caires wrote Dr Misir referring to the cessation of advertisements which had resulted directly from a political directive and stated that this was a direct attack on the newspaper for political reasons and was completely unacceptable. He noted that President Bharrat Jagdeo had signed the declaration of Chapultepec, a famous declaration of free press principles adopted by the Inter American Press Association in Mexico City on March 11, 1994. Clause 7 of that declaration states explicitly that “the granting or withdrawal of government advertising may not be used to reward or punish the media or individual journalists”.

De Caires requested Dr Misir to “urgently review this new discriminatory policy and that you let me have your written assurance that you will not persist with it.”

On the 9th January, 2007 , a reply was received from Ms Karen Persaud, Advertising Coordinator of the GINA Advertising Unit which referred to the letter and stated that “the issues raised have been acknowledged and have now been presented to the relevant department for review”. On the 10th January, 2007 , de Caires responded as follows: “Your statement that “the issues raised have been acknowledged and have now been presented to the relevant department for review” is unclear and unsatisfactory. We must assume it to mean that Dr Gopaul’s directive to cut off all ministry ads from our newspaper has been withdrawn and that we will now receive an appropriate proportion of these advertisements.

Since that day no ministry advertisements have been received from GINA though several have appeared in the other newspapers. It seems clear there has been no change in policy.

De Caires stated that this decision by the government to withdraw ads constituted an apparent reversal of its policy of respect for freedom of expression and constituted an attack on the free press. He expressed regret that this Government which had when in opposition suffered from restrictions on press freedom had seen it fit to behave in this manner.

He said copies of this release are being be sent to all the local media, the Caribbean newspapers and the International Press Institute, the Commonwealth Press Union and the Inter American Press Association, three organizations dedicated to the preservation of press freedom and of which Stabroek News is a member.