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Thursday, 24 May 2007

In support of the Stabroek News

Today several newspapers across the Anglophone Caribbean have published a statement condemning the Guyanese government's advertising boycott of the Stabroek News, which began last November (see this Reporters Sans Frontières report for background). Here is the text of the statement, taken from the Barbados Nation. (Separate editorials on the matter have also been published today by the Jamaica Observer and the Jamaica Gleaner.)


SINCE NOVEMBER 1, 2006, the government of Guyana has withdrawn advertisements for some 29 government ministries, agencies and state-owned corporations from the Stabroek News.

The distribution of these ads is handled by the Government Information Agency (GINA). The head of GINA refused for two months to give any explanation for this abrupt and absolute withdrawal.

Eventually, when the Stabroek News went public with the matter early this year, the Guyana government stated that this was a business decision based on circulation.

The Stabroek News then proposed that the paid circulations of the three daily newspapers be audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulation and that a professional advertising agency be consulted to determine which of the newspapers had the target audience for the types of advertisements placed by the government.

Neither suggestion was entertained by the Guyana government.

A regional media team agreed to attempt to seek a solution of the matter and met President Bharrat Jagdeo at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in St Vincent in February. That team comprised Harold Hoyte (Barbados), representing One Caribbean Media Limited; Dale Enoch (Trinidad and Tobago), president of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers; Newton James (Jamaica), representing the Jamaica Gleaner, and Rickey Singh, the noted Guyana-born Caribbean journalist based in Barbados.

The team offered to advise on and assist with the setting up of a fair system for the distribution of government advertisements.

By May, however, the team concluded that the government was not willing to settle the matter and issued a Press release to that effect.

It stated that the "current unfair and undesirable situation of a total withdrawal of advertisements from the Stabroek News could objectively be viewed by independent observers as having the effect of subverting the commercial viability of the newspaper, and by extension resulting in a Press freedom problem".

The free Press frowns upon a government which takes taxpayers' money and uses it in a manner that appears to be discriminatory and intended to punish its critics and reward its friends.

As custodian of the state's resources, a government must distribute these in a manner that is fair and in keeping with the interests of the entire population. Article 7 of the Declaration of Chapultepec, to which the Guyana government has subscribed, provides as follows: "The granting or withdrawal of government advertising may not be used to reward or punish the media or individual journalists."

Thus it ill becomes the Guyana government, which itself suffered severely from a restriction of Press freedom when its party was in opposition under Burnham government, to behave in this manner.

Furthermore, we are aware that the Stabroek News from its inception in 1986 fought for the restoration of free and fair elections which brought the present government to power in 1992 and for an open society under the rule of law.

We, the regional Press, call upon the government of Guyana to reconsider its position in this matter. Failing this, we will bring this matter to the attention of the governments in our respective territories and will also raise this attack on Press freedom in our region with the various international media organisations to which we belong.

Freedom is indivisible, and a threat to any newspaper in the region is a threat to us all.

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