15 April 2008

IAPA calls for greater press freedom in Guyana, Bermuda


IAPA calls for greater press freedom in Guyana, Bermuda


MIAMI, Florida (April 15, 2008) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern at the temporary closure of a television station in Guyana by the Guyanese president. It also urged the government of Bermuda not to use official advertising as a weapon of reprisal against a newspaper in that country.


The IAPA expressed concern at a four-month suspension on April 12 of broadcasts by CNS Channel 6 television in Guyana on the orders of that country’s President Bharrat Jagdeo, acting as minister of communications, on the grounds that the station “infringed the terms of its license” by airing on three occasions a call-in by one of its viewers saying the prime minister should be assassinated.


The Guyana Press Association (GPA) said that it would not issue an opinion on the cause of the alleged offense but it deplored Jagdeo’s action, saying it was out of line as the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) had decided it would not act against the TV station because its Director had apologized for the allegedly offensive content of the call. The GPA called on Jagdeo to lift the broadcast ban because he was himself the aggrieved party in the matter.


IAPA President Earl Maucker and the chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gonzalo Marroquín, said that in any event the four-month suspension in a competitive media environment such as the current one was practically “a shutdown.” They issued a public call on Jagdeo to reconsider the punitive action and not to engage in any reprisals against the media because of their editorial views.


Meanwhile, after 17 months and on the repeated insistence of the IAPA and other press organizations Jagedo’s government last week announced it would resume placement of official advertising in the daily newspaper Stabroek News, which had been “punished” for its critical editorial content.      


In another development, in a letter to Bermuda Prime Minister Ewart Brown the IAPA declared, “Discrimination in the placement of advertising severely restricts freedom of the press.” The note, signed by Earl Maucker and Gonzalo Marroquín, added that “the government should allocate its resources with complete transparency and employ purely technical criteria.”


The IAPA was responding to a complaint by the Bermuda newspaper The Royal Gazette that the government had cut back placement of official advertising claiming that it was due to “cost-cutting” and declaring that  it would “concentrate its advertising in electronic media, especially radio and the Internet.” The government also announced it was “suspending all subscriptions to the newspaper.” The paper stated in an editorial that the cutback was rather a payback for its “The Right to Know – Giving Power to the People,” campaign that advocates access to public information legislation in that country.


The Royal Gazette said that despite claiming budgetary constraints the government was continuing to advertise in other print media.


Text of the letter to the Prime Minister of Bermuda:


April 15,  2008

H.E. The Prime Minister of Bermuda
Dr. Ewart Brown

Honorable Dr. Brown,

On behalf of more than 1,300 print publications belonging to our organization we are writing to express to you our deepest concern at the complaints made about your government with regard to the use of government advertising as a means to reward or punish the news media, a matter that we deplore as being contrary to freedom of the press, as enshrined in the Declaration of Chapultepec and in the Organization of American States’ Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression.  

The IAPA understands that every government has a duty to use the resources of its citizens in the most efficient way, although we would request in such actions transparency and the employment of purely technical criteria, so that there may be no doubt that the media were being rewarded or punished by reason of their editorial policies.

Following the public announcements made by your government there has been no indication of the kind of methodology used in the placement of official advertising. In view of this, and of the fact that discrimination in the placement of that advertising severely restricts freedom of the press, we would respectfully ask you to review the action taken by your government against The Royal Gazette and other media in your country.

With the hope that freedom of the press will be observed, we remain,

Your sincerely,

Earl Maucker 

Gonzalo Marroquín 
Chairman, Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information