Freedom of the Press
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Guyana’s media landscape remained relatively vibrant in 2015. Media outlets provided robust, but heavily partisan and at times sensationalist coverage of the two main factions competing in the year’s parliamentary elections. Frequent civil defamation suits and government hostility toward critical media encourage some journalists to self-censor.
- In January 2015, an appeals court ordered that a defamation fine issued against the Kaieteur News in connection with a case initiated in 2000 be increased to G$15 million ($76,000), from the original G$4.5 million ($23,000).
- Following critical coverage of the government in the state-run Guyana Chronicle, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo in August ordered that headlines in state-run print outlets be screened by his office before publication.
Legal Environment: 11 / 30
Guyana’s constitution provides for freedom of expression, and the law protects freedom of the press, but these guarantees are not always enforced. 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 frequently unsuccessful, the threat of legal liability can be enough to silence journalists. In an older case that remains unresolved, former 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 proceedings were ongoing at the end of 2015. In January 2015, an appeals court ordered that a defamation fine issued against publishers of Kaieteur News in connection with a case initiated in 2000 be increased to G$15 million ($76,000), from G$4.5 million ($23,000) previously. The case was initiated by a prominent doctor who had been the subject of unflattering articles published in the paper. In November 2015, former home affairs minister Ronald Gajraj filed a G$10 million ($46,000) defamation suit against the Guyana Chronicle; that suit came in connection with an article in which the paper quoted a U.S. diplomatic cable released by the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks that described how another Guyanese official had accused Gajraj of corruption. At the end of 2015, the case remained unsettled.
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, both under the previous People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government and the new coalition government, comprised of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC), which took office in 2015. In December, the opposition PPP/C accused the new government of blocking access to public information the party’s legislators needed in order to inform debate on the 2016 budget.
The 2011 Broadcasting Act gives the president the power to appoint six of the seven members of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA). The law authorizes the GNBA to issue licenses for private television and radio operators. Under the PPP/C government, which until being defeated in 2015 parliamentary elections had been in power for 23 years, licenses were denied to television stations operating in opposition strongholds. In 2015, new prime minister Nagamootoo, who is also Guyana’s information minister, indicated that the new coalition government might reverse the award of some radio and television licenses granted by the PPP/C, prompting concern about a new round of government biases.
Political Environment: 14 / 40
Guyana’s media landscape is vibrant, despite a history of pressure on opposition outlets. The relationship between the media and the new coalition government has so far been strained. Despite repeated pledges by the APNU-AFC coalition to permit an independently operated state-owned media, Nagamootoo in August publicly criticized a headline in the government-owned daily Chronicle that portrayed the government in a negative light, and added that a government publication should espouse government perspectives. The assertion prompted concern from the Guyana Press Association, which called Nagamootoo’s statements an intimidation tactic. Soon afterward, Nagamootoo issued an order that all headlines in state-run print media outlets be submitted to the president’s office for prepublication approval. Journalists accuse officials in the new coalition of routinely evading reporters’ questions and treating critical media dismissively.
There are occasional cases of harassment against journalists and media outlets. There were no reports of physical attacks against journalists in 2015.
Economic Environment: 11 / 30
The government owns and controls the television and radio broadcaster, the National Communications Network (NCN), and the daily Guyana Chronicle. These outlets compete with several private television and radio stations and private newspapers. 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 38 percent of the population used the medium in 2015.