Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mail box: Guyana Media tortured

After weeks of effective coverage of issues of torture by Guyana's military, the media got a spicy taste of just how vicious the army can get, when they were kicked out of covering the annual Officers' Conference. Luckily, no one was injured during the verbal exchange of words, reports suggest.

However, the GPA Executive body made up of representatives from across the media spectrum has fired back, issuing the following press statement calling its members to arms.

While some editors have suppressed their reporters by banning them from reading the GPA statement, we have taken time out to republish it here in full just for their enlightenment and the education of the wider world.


Jan 17, 2008

Press Association urges boycott of army and gov't events- calls on international community to take note.

In the wake of media representatives being evicted from Camp Ayanganna from covering the opening session of the 2008 Guyana Defence Force(GDF) Annual Officers' Conference on Thursday January 17; the GuyanaPress Association (GPA) is urging its members and media houses to boycott all activities of the army while seriously reviewing the coverage we provide to the Office of the President and other government agencies.

The GPA believes that it is absolutely no accident that media workers were asked to leave. Instead, that act was deliberately hatched in the hope that our eviction would be featured in the media rather than the recent alleged torture of civilians and soldiers. We note that this tactic was first used in 2006 at the height of the disappearance of 30AK-47 assault rifles and five hand-guns from a bond at Camp Ayanganna. Last year, when we were allowed to cover the conference opening, he used the opportunity to again divert attention by lambasting theUnited States (US) on its narcotics record and viciously attacking the media as "lazy."

The latest decision to exclude journalists from covering the opening ceremony of the GDF's Officers' conference has not been taken lightly. It is nothing more than a form of censorship and an excuse for controlling the press. All freedom-loving and respected military and civilian organisations in this Hemisphere and other parts of the world must take note that the media- a key pillar of democracy,good governance and transparency-- is now the target of the GDF at the behest of the Government of Guyana which is on the verge of surpassingpast atrocities against the media dating back to the 1970s and 1980s in Guyana.

When the Commander-in-chief, His Excellency President Bharrat Jagdeo, wants to proffer his views; we oblige and attend his press conferences without grumbling, even if we have to wait long periods, as was the case Monday when we sat for 45 minutes over the due start time.

His utterance that a question on torture was a "waste of time" juxtaposed with today's occurrence is reflective of attempts to manipulate and control the media in ways similar and increasingly worse than what had obtained prior to the winds of glasnost and perestroika. In this context, your association urges all media workers to continue to 'dig' into those torture claims being allegedly committed by the army, as well as the many other issues plaguing Guyanese, while at the same time not losing sight of any achievements being made in all spheres ranging from the ordinary man to large institutions and the country as a whole.

At the same time, we call on the international community to take note of the misuse of human and financial resources at the disposal of the Government of Guyana as a result of loans and debt write-offs that have been provided to the State. It continues to baffle us that these important public events, which were once fully covered by the media, are now being kept out of the public eyes.

What is also baffling is that nothing classified is being said at these events based upon the previous occasions when the media was banned. We can only view this latest move as another attempt to muzzle the free press and for this we condemn both the army and the President Bharrat Jagdeo administration. The facts of Thursdays occurrence are as follows: The army and the Office of the President dispatched media advisories on Wednesday inviting media houses to 'cover the first session of the Guyana Defence Force 2008 Annual Officers' Conference". The GDF advisory further advised the media to report to base Camp Ayanganna by 09:30 hours for a briefing before the scheduled 09:50 opening of the conference.

The Office of the President, on the other hand, in itsadvisory said that the media was invited to cover the address of Jagdeo. As expected, media representatives showed up this morning for the assignment and while some of our colleagues were setting-up their equipment they were informed by Major Daniels who said that he was now the officer in charge of Public Relations that they could only take pictures of the President posing with his officers. He further advised that we were not being allowed to cover the President's address and as such we should leave the compound soon after taking pictures. With such instructions, the entire media corps, save for the National Communications Network (NCN) opted to leave without taking any photograph of Jagdeo posing with his officers.

It should be noted that it is not the first time media representativeshad been ejected from covering similar events by the military. In2006, members of the media were ejected from covering Jagdeo's address to Police Officers and in that same year a similar posture was adopted by the GDF, although the latter subsequently sent copies of the then Chief-of-Staff, Edward Collins' address and the Government Information Agency (GINA) provided copies of the President's speech.

In view of this recurrent posture of the government and the GDF, theexecutive of the GPA may at a subsequent time engage the high command of the GDF to iron out how we will partner as two professional bodies, but for now we are calling on our members to boycott all activities of the army and also ignore their press statements unless the matter being addressed is of urgent national importance. It is our view that the continued disrespect and contempt being shown to the media by no less an institution than the Office of the President has certainly trickled down and has now reached the GDF, which at onetime was viewed as one of the most professional and disciplined organizations in this country.

Today's eviction of mediarepresentatives who were duly invited to cover the opening session ofthe GDF Annual Officers' conference is another frightening sign thatthe army is now following the lead of its Commander-in-Chief who hasrepeatedly treated the media here with disdain.

The GPA is not unaware of the negative media coverage the army had been receiving over the past two years due to its negligence in losing 30 AK-47 rifles and the horrendous revelations that officers of the MilitaryCriminal Investigation allegedly tortured several of its ranks over the loss of another AK-47 rifle last year November.

The media in Guyana will not be dictated by a government and an armywho believe in 'hiding' negative stories to suit their own narrow agenda; rather our duty, as professionals, is first to serve thepublic.

Besides, both the President and Chief-of-staff, Commodore,Gary Best should know that the truly independent and serious news agencies here are not interested in photo-opportunities and political grandstanding. These agencies are not public relations units for the government and the army and as such if it was the intention not to let the media in at the conference then an invitation should not have been sent in the first place or it should have indicated that only a photographic opportunity would be permitted.

Moreover, one would have hoped that with a new command structure, which had promised so much, media relations with the military would have improved, but this is far from reality. As a professional body the GPA would be reviewing its almost non-existent relationship with the army which has also stopped placing advertisements in the StabroekNews-another example of the organization following the miscued and baseless argument being proffered by Jagdeo that the newspaper's circulation has dwindled. It is left for the public to judge how much professionalism, dignity and independence this organization has retained.



Secretary, Nigel Williams-- 609-7442
President, Denis Chabrol--623-5430

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