Critics accuse Guyana’s president of politicizing new broadcasting authority

By Zach Dyer

Several press freedom groups expressed their concern over the perceived politicization of the Guyanese National Broadcasting Authority (NBA) on Wednesday, Sept. 19, only a month after the authority’s mandate took effect. The International Press Institute (IPI) reported on its website that most of the NBA’s board members are linked to the Caribbean country’s president or his political party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), and have little broadcasting experience.

Guyana’s president, Donald Ramotar, named the chairman of the NBA and stacked almost all of the remaining board positions with individuals close to his administration, according to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange’s (IFEX) website. The opposition was allowed to nominate only one board member, University of Guyana lecturer Sherwood Lowe. The president’s appointments ignored the recommendations of a parliamentary joint committee that suggested a parliamentary committee name board members who would elect their own chairperson, according to IPI and IFEX.

Opposition leader David Granger of A Partnership for National Unity lamented the “overbearing control of the state” in the NBA and vowed to take legislative action against the Broadcasting Act that created the NBA, reported IFEX.

The 2011 Broadcasting Act was originally designed to reduce government control of Guyana’s dirigiste media landscape by encouraging private radio and television licenses, according to IPI. Guyana’s government currently has a monopoly on radio and has issued some private television licenses. Private media in the opposition stronghold of Linden, however, has been restricted.

Lowe wrote a Sept. 16 editorial warning, “public confidence is lacking that the NBA can fulfill its mandate as envisioned in the report of the joint committee. This is not a good starting point.”

Guyana’s press freedom score fell from “free” to “partly free” during the last year, according to Freedom House’s 2012 Freedom of the Press report. Last year, then-President Bharrat Jagdeo, also of the PPP, suspended an opposition television station, accusing it of inciting religious intolerance.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.