Remarks as prepared
Ambassador Sarah Ann Lynch
Media Training on Election Reporting
January 25, 2019, 9:00 AM
National Library Conference Room
Thank you to Justice Claudette Singh, the Guyana Election Commission Chair, for your presence and participation today. Thank you to Zulfikar Ally, Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce, and to Nazima Raghubir, President of Guyana Press Association, for the work of your organizations in preparing this important media election training event.
Jointly with the Heads of Mission of the British High Commission and the Delegation of the European Union, the U.S. Embassy recently congratulated GECOM for a smooth and efficient Nomination Day, and we expressed our expectations for a peaceful and mature election campaign – one where everyone, regardless of political leanings, is able to express their views openly.
We are here today because a free and robust press is vital to democracy and good governance. To fulfill its highest civic purpose, the press must be both independent and unbiased. Without independence, a media outlet functions as a public relations mouthpiece for whatever government, industry, or powerful interest controls or exercises direct influence over the outlet. Likewise, without the careful efforts of editors and journalists who dedicate their professional lives to objectivity and unbiased reporting of facts, media outlets would function merely as purveyors of party propaganda and spin. In both cases, whether lacking independence or neutrality, truth can be obscured.
Media all around the world can surely do better in meeting the high but essential standards of independence and neutrality. But today we are focused on Guyana. In its assessment of the media environment during the 2015 election in Guyana, election observers reported that “In general, the media were partisan in their election coverage.” While noting the “diverse range of content and opinion across the media,” the assessment by election observers reported that very little of the coverage “was neutral and unbiased.”
This election is your opportunity to turn the page on that history and to more faithfully convey unbiased information to the citizens of Guyana. In doing so, the press will display its leadership role as the purveyor of facts and balanced analysis on the elections. That leadership can yield a virtuous cycle of citizenship, because well-informed citizens can better hold political leaders accountable.
As a daily consumer of content offered by Guyana’s media outlets, I have admired the breadth and depth of coverage in this country’s media environment. There is an exuberance of tone in much of the coverage that is like a daily celebration and exercise of Guyana’s press freedoms, a freedom highly valued by my country as well. I celebrate that freedom with all Guyanese.
Our own biases are sometimes hard to see, and we all have them. This training event will highlight the journalistic tools reporters use, including fact checking, multiple sourcing, and how to navigate partisan narratives. Equally important, you will have an opportunity to reinforce your abilities to use these tools and to methodically discover the unvarnished truth in a way that allows you to put aside personal biases.
Journalism is a unique profession for the demands of idealism and self-awareness it places on practitioners. Governments, companies, and political parties will always need loyal spokespeople. That is a fine job to have if it is yours. But it is my opinion that only a professional with loyalty first to the truth and dedication to delivering unbiased reporting of facts in the service of a well-informed citizenry deserves to be called a journalist.
The Embassy is in the midst of a social media campaign that we gave the hashtag #CheckFuhYuhSelf. The campaign is aimed at stopping the spread of misinformation online. Unlike journalists, the average citizen may lack access to powerful figures or the resources to seek out additional sources for a claim. But the campaign encourages all Guyanese to recognize that freedom of the press requires citizens to bear the responsibility with journalists to always Stop, Reflect, and Verify what they hear and see to prevent the spread of misinformation.
The campaign includes a pledge to Stop, Reflect, and Verify an article before sharing it. To date, over 50 people have signed the pledge including, I’m told, several of the journalists here today. If you see the campaign, please help us spread the message.
Thank you, everyone, for your participation today, and for the important work you do every day.