Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
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Guyana’s constitution provides for freedom of expression, and the law protects freedom of the press, but relations between the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government and some media outlets have deteriorated in recent years.
Penalties for defamation are found in both civil and criminal law; under the latter, offenses are punishable by fines and up to two years in prison. Public officials commonly utilize civil defamation suits to stifle criticism in the media, and while such suits are rarely successful, the threat of legal liability can be enough to silence journalists. In April 2014, Attorney General Anil Nandlall launched a G$20 million (US$99,000) defamation case against the Stabroek News over a column that criticized his performance; the case remained open at year’s end. In an older case that was still unresolved, then president Bharrat Jagdeo filed a libel suit in 2010 against journalist and political activist Freddie Kissoon as well as the editor in chief and publisher of Kaieteur News over a critical article, and obtained a preliminary injunction barring the newspaper from printing similar content. Hearings in the case began in late 2012 and continued through 2014.
The 2011 Access to Information Act guarantees the public’s right to information and requires government bodies to publish documents. It established the office of the information commissioner to regulate data requests and releases. The president is exempt from the law’s requirements, and its overall implementation has been criticized as inadequate. In June 2014, the information commissioner denied a request from Transparency International Guyana, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), for information about a business deal between the government and a Canadian firm, claiming that the office did not have enough money to process it. Reportedly the request was, at that point, the only one the office had received since opening in 2013. In September 2014, the director of the NGO Justice Institute Guyana called for the information commissioner’s resignation, saying that numerous requests for information had been returned unopened, including at least one that was rejected on the grounds that the correspondence had not addressed the commissioner by all of his official titles.
The 2011 Broadcasting Act gives the president the power to appoint six of the seven members of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA). When the law took effect in 2012, President Donald Ramotar stacked the new regulator with PPP insiders who had little or no broadcasting experience. The law authorizes the GNBA to issue licenses for private television and radio operators, but licenses have been denied to television stations operating in opposition strongholds.
Guyana has a vibrant, though threatened, opposition press. On several occasions in recent years, the government has moved to censor the media, usually in connection with coverage of the political opposition. In April 2014, the National Communications Network (NCN), a state-run broadcaster, temporarily suspended a producer for airing without authorization a parliamentary speech by a member of the opposition Alliance for Change party. The broadcast reportedly violated a government order that parliamentary addresses by opposition members only be aired late at night.
There are occasional cases of harassment against journalists and media outlets. In October 2014, the Kaieteur News released a transcript and audio recording of a phone call to one of its senior reporters, in which the caller, widely identified as Attorney General Nandlall, threatened the staff with physical harm in connection with critical reporting. In response, Nandlall filed a G$30 million (US$150,000) defamation lawsuit against the paper’s editor and publisher, which remained pending at year’s end. There were no reports of physical attacks against journalists in 2014.
The government owns and controls the television and radio broadcaster NCN, which favors the ruling party in its coverage. There are multiple private television stations, and at the end of 2012, Radio Guyana Inc., the first private radio station, began broadcasting. The country’s print outlets include several private newspapers and the government-owned daily Chronicle. Independent and opposition-oriented papers have historically had difficulty competing with progovernment outlets for advertising revenue, threatening their economic viability. The government does not restrict internet access, and approximately 37 percent of the population used the medium in 2014.