The United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day- Tuesday, May 3- underscored the important role of journalists in holding the government accountable for the spending of oil revenues that now amount to almost US$1 billion.
“Press attention to accountability has never been more important in Guyana with a historically large revenue stream entering government coffers and a regularly stated intent to use those resources for a development agenda that cuts across all regions and races,” American Ambassador, Sarah-Ann Lynch; British High Commissioner, Jane Miller; Canadian High Commissioner Mark Berman and European Union Ambassador, Dr Fernando Ponz Canto said in a joint statement.
They also called on the government and other political players to be tolerant of criticism by the media. “There is also a larger principle at stake that strong democracies require free information flow in the public marketplace of opinions and ideas. As inconvenient as criticism can be to government officials and other leaders, it is an essential part of the democratic cacophony,” the envoys said.
Officials say that so from 2018 to now, Guyana has earned US$$740 million from oil sales.
Top elected officials of both the People’s Progressive Party Civic government and opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) have on occasions exhibited intolerance to media queries and have even gone as far as avoiding sections of the media that ask searching questions. Though mainly Vice Presidential press conferences are held and many ministers are accessible by phone, the Irfaan Ali-led administration has so far not kept its promise to reintroduce weekly post-Cabinet briefings.
“With matters of life and the quality of life in the balance, journalists must be allowed to report facts freely without attacks and acts of intimidation or censorship at a time where the capacity to speak truth is constantly under attack around the world,” the Heads of Missions added.
The Western diplomats highlighted that media freedom also requires freedom from all forms of undue influence or pressure, be it political, economic or financial, so that they can report independently and objectively. They also urged an end to abuse and harassment of journalists while doing their job or uttering inappropriate comments or sexually harassing female journalists and members of the LGBTQ community.
With this year’s World Press Freedom Day being observed under the theme, “Journalism under Digital Siege,” the diplomats said governments need to take account of the technological environment. “In a time where journalists are increasingly using a digital space, it is clear that bold action is needed from governments to acknowledge and address the evolving media environment,” they said.
The Heads of Missions credited Guyana’s media with covering the COVID-19 pandemic, fires, floods, domestic violence and other incidents while holding government, opposition parliamentarians and others accountable. “For example, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the media has helped to keep societies updated about developments with the pandemic, to learn of best practices to prevent the
spread of the virus and importantly to counter false or misleading information.”
The American, British, Canadian and European envoys, they noted the “presence and voice” of the Guyana Press Association and said they were pleased with Guyana’s participation in the the Media Freedom Coalition. “Together, we must engage constructively to find practical solutions to protect the voices of journalists in both the traditional and digital space.”
They diplomats thanked journalists in Guyana for their continuous work which has not only informed but uplifted the voices of communities and “we commit to continuing to support the local media and the fundamental principles of press freedom.”