At CPA workshop…Speaker, Opposition MP expound on Parliament, Media practices
By Tajeram Mohabir
Guyana Chronicle news item. Thursday 29 May 2008
SPEAKER of the National Assembly, Mr. Hari Narayan (Ralph) Ramkarran, yesterday underscored the need for the legislature and the media to define their relationship, either by understanding or accepting their respective duties and the principles applied in discharging them.
He made the pronouncement at the opening of the four-day ‘Guyana Workshop on Parliament and the Media’ being hosted by the local legislature and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) at Grand Coastal Inn, Le Ressouvenir, East Coast Demerara.
The forum seeks to sensitise the media and Members of Parliament (MPs) on their rights, duties, responsibilities and privileges.
Among those who spoke were Prime Minister Samuel Hinds; member of the United Kingdom (UK) House of Lords, Baroness Valerie Amos and CPA Assistant Director, Mr. Shem Baldeosingh.
In attendance also were other visiting CPA members, Government and Opposition MPs, as well as parliamentarians from Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda.
Ramkarran pointed out that both parliamentarians and the media have roles and parameters around which they function and noted that the topics for discussion have been carefully chosen to deal with the challenges facing MPs and media practitioners in discharging their respective duties and recommendations to address them.
He said the initiative is in keeping with ongoing efforts by the National Assembly to upgrade its members with the latest information on requisite knowledge and skills to effectively discharge their responsibilities to the electorate.
Ramkarran told the participants that, locally, there is no body of written principles to guide the media in relation to Parliament nor does the National Assembly or the Speaker find it necessary to intervene in any matter relating to the media.
He recalled that, on one occasion, the Parliamentary Management Committee (PMC) approved a set of uncontroversial principles, prepared by an Australian expert who came here through the CPA, compliments of the Commonwealth Secretariat.
But, according to Ramkarran, due to lack of support from the media, the PMC was unable to proceed with the proposal and decided to wait for a more opportune time.
The Speaker emphasised, however, that, at some point in the future, as the work of the National Assembly expands, a set of agreed principles will be needed and, if the media is reluctant to buy into the quest, inevitably legislation will be enacted.
Ramkarran thanked the CPA and the local Parliament Office for planning the workshop, which he said, was long pending but has come at an appropriate time.
Alliance For Change (AFC) Co-Leader and MP, Mr. Raphael Trotman, who also expounded his views, said the occasion, in the opinion of the Opposition, coincides with a time when the freedom of the press is under threat by both State and non-state actors.
“There is a growing body of opinion which says, and with justification, that we are witnessing the rolling back of fundamental rights and freedoms in Guyana to an Orwellian time when we, too, can lament that, in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act,” he lamented.
According to Trotman, the recent events involving the Stabroek News, CNS Channel 6 television, the continued exclusion of the Opposition and Civil Society from the State-owned media and the refusal to share information on matters of public interest, such as the sale of State assets, have brought the notions of the right to information, freedom of the press and the responsibilities of the media into sharp focus.
He lauded the programme, continuing through Saturday, pointing out that, apart from MPs and the media understanding their respective roles, they will be better educated as to what is appropriate and inappropriate and why, in the discharge of their functions, there are certain universal expectations.
Trotman said, from the legislator’s point of view, the media, too, will be better enabled to distinguish between useful and helpful information and utter trash and sensationalism.
He also observed that, many times, there have been reports in the media which were improperly researched, riddled with errors and overtly biased.
“We have to rise to the occasion, at times, by placing national interest above sales and revenue and refrain from shouting fire when there is only a spark to be seen,” the opposition MP exhorted.
The AFC leader said his expectations of the seminar are that it will be a mechanism for moving one step closer to the realisation of access to information legislation in Guyana.
As part of his deep and abiding interest in the promotion of democracy, he tabled a Freedom of Information Bill in the National Assembly in 2006 and explained that “it was Mahatma Gandhi who taught us that the spirit of democracy cannot be superimposed from the outside. It must come from within.”
Trotman said: “I still believe we have it within us to wake up and do what is necessary to establish a true democracy, where provision is made to ensure that the people are properly informed and the voices of all will be heard and listened to in the decision-making processes.”
Chairperson of the opening session, Adviser to the President on Governance, Ms. Gail Teixeira declared that, while Trotman’s observations are topical, they are “irrelevant” to the occasion.
Prime Minister Hinds, in brief remarks, also acknowledged that the sessions will be of great benefit to both MPs and the media and charged the participants to open their minds and internalise the experiences that will be imparted by the eminent speakers.
Baldeosingh was optimistic that the seminar will help MPs, the media and civil society to work towards the development of a better legal and political environment, in which the public is provided with all the information required to make informed decisions.
The topics discussed yesterday included ‘The CPA and Parliament and the Media Review of Recommendations for an Informed Democracy’, ‘The role of the Media as the Fourth Estate’, ‘Parliament and the Media: General issues’, ‘Defining Public Interest’ and ‘Access to Parliamentary Information.’