Over the last four years, Guyana's People's Progressive Party (PPP) government, headed by President Bharrat Jagdeo , has been criticised for what some observers see as its efforts to stifle media scrutiny. One major incident was the suspension of the broadcast license of the CNS Channel Six television station in January 2005. The station had been running critical reports of government agencies’ response to catastrophic flooding. This was followed by a 17-month ban , from November 2006 to April 2008, on government advertising in the independent Stabroek News . Most media advertising in Guyana comes from government agencies and state-owned companies; withdrawing this advertising is tantamount to applying financial sanctions. The Guyanese government also owns one of the country's three major newspapers, the Guyana Chronicle , and has a monopoly on radio broadcasting.
Most recently, sanctions against an individual journalist have met with a fresh outcry from media and civil society representatives. The news broke on Saturday 12 July. Living Guyana , a blog maintained by the anonymous MediaCritic (and thought to be widely read by Guyanese media workers), posted the news ahead of the conventional media:
Living Guyana has learnt from a reliable source that Capitol News senior reporter Gordon Moseley has been declared persona non grata at the Office of the President …. According to our source, the decision was made at a high level meeting of the state media apparatchiks. We are making strenuous efforts to contact Moseley to see whether the ban was communicated to him.
The background: Moseley had covered President Jagdeo's recent official visit to Antigua and Barbuda for the Capitol News TV station. One of his reports concerned a meeting between Jagdeo and Guyanese nationals living in Antigua. Taking offense to the report, Jagdeo singled out Moseley for criticism in a widely televised press conference. Moseley responded with a letter printed in the Stabroek News on 9 July , which included a verbatim transcript of his report. As reported by Living Guyana on 14 July, the Office of the President then decided to institute a ban on Moseley entering either the president's office building — where press conferences and interviews are often held — or State House, the head of state's official residence:
… the permanent secretary in the Office of the President dispatched a letter to the security detail at the respective institutions informing them of the ban.
Moseley was prevented from entering the OP this afternoon when he arrived for a briefing being held by Cabinet Secretary Roger Luncheon .
The ban is only on Moseley and any other member of the Capitol News team is free to cover OP and State House events.
As the story unfolded that day, Living Guyana posted frequent updates, drawing on media coverage and other sources. First, President Jagdeo himself denied any knowledge of the ban , which seemed to have originated instead from the press officers at the Office of the President. The Guyana Press Association (GPA) issued a statement criticising the ban, which Living Guyana posted in full. Further details emerged when Moseley received a letter from the head of the Government Information Agency:
Moseley said the letter informed him that he was banned from the two institutions for disrespectful and disparaging remarks made by him toward President Bharrat Jagdeo . The letter further stated that the ban will be reviewed if Moseley appologised.
Living Guyana criticised Capitol News for not reporting the ban sooner, even though other media outlets had already done so. The station finally ran a story “one day too late” (and three full days after Living Guyana filed its first report). Meanwhile, on 15 July both the Stabroek News and the Kaieteur News ran substantial reports on the story; Living Guyana mockingly asked why the government-owned Chronicle offered no coverage.
“Barring a journalist because a report displeased the president is an attack on pluralism and the press’s critical role,” Reporters Without Borders said…. “The punishment imposed on Moseley directly affects his ability to work and we therefore call for it to be lifted.”
Regional media also began to pay attention to the case, and Living Guyana even reported claims from an anonymous source that senior members of the PPP disagreed with and were “highly disturbed” by the Moseley ban:
“We can't read him (President Jagdeo ) anymore, he's just making some wild decisions and making some wild statements which are costing the party to lose goodwill which we fought so hard to achieve in the first place,” said one senior party official who requested anonymity.
On 17 July, Guyanese media workers began planned protest action. Living Guyana reported that journalists covering the parliamentary session that day all wore red armbands, “to signify that they stand in solidarity with their banned colleague and that the government … is launching another serious attack on press freedom in Guyana.” When the first government minister rose to speak in parliament, most of the media workers present walked out of the building, starting a boycott of most government activities.
Living Guyana continued its coverage blitz with a post suggesting that though President Jagdeo was publicly standing firm — even referring to the GPA as an “opposition” organisation — behind the scenes he was approaching senior media workers for help defusing the situation. Two senior government press officers responded to the storm of criticism through letters published in the Chronicle . Living Guyana linked to numerous letters written by members of the public, arguing both for and against the ban, but also suggested that Guyanese journalists should consider it a “badge of honour” to be attacked by the government.
The first sign of a break in the impasse came on 27 July, when the GPA announced it was ending its boycott of government activities, “to allow both local and international interventions to work, aimed at bringing about a resolution to a number of issues concerning the media.” Living Guyana did not approve :
It shows that they are weak and cannot even begin to resist being overrun and bullied by the creeping dictatorship. This is a sad day for press freedom in Guyana
But shortly thereafter, on 28 July, came a post suggesting that the GPA's move was in fact the first step in the resolution of the Moseley ban:
In the next few days Gordon Moseley's ban from the Office of the President and State House will be withdrawn and there are to be meetings between the media body and OP representatives
Living Guyana's sustained coverage of the Moseley ban story — largely ignored by other Guyanese blogs — has rivalled the coverage of Guyana's mainstream media. And as Guyanese journalists and the public in general wait to hear if the ban has indeed been lifted, it seems likely that any major development will be reported at Living Guyana ahead of other sources.