The Guyana Press Association has lambasted Commissioner of Police Leslie James and leaders of the two major political parties and the Guyana Elections Commission for the tense and unsafe environment in which media workers have had to conduct their duties over the last few days.
Based on several accounts from journalists, they were threatened, taunted, chased, heckled and in some cases almost assaulted by supporters of the two main political parties and these incidents have all been taking place in full view of the members of the Guyana Police Force who out rightly did nothing.
“We hold the leaders of the major political parties, Police Commissioner and members of the Guyana Elections Commission responsible for any harm brought to media professionals as they conduct their duties.” The Guyana Press Association noted in its statement on Saturday morning.
It was also noted in the statement that most of these incidents took place over the past weeks including the latter two days, as the media workers gathered around the GECOM tabulation Centre and GECOM Secretariat to inform and update the nation about the elections.
The silence and in some cases utterances by political parties during this period did not go unnoticed by the Guyana Press Association.
“The political leaders through speech and silence continue to bait and incite supporters to act against opposing groups and the media. During several opposition protest actions last week media workers were followed, taunted and insulted while doing their jobs as some political leaders even attempted to direct journalists on how to write their stories.” The statement added.
It should be noted that the Guyana Elections Commission issued special media passes for the members of the press to gain access to its media center during press conferences and to facilitate coverage of other official election-related events during the elections period.
Further to that, the journalists and media workers through the Guyana press Association were issued with media passes for the official conduct of their day to day operations. The back of the passes are signed by the Commissioner of Police and reads in part “Production of this pass will access the holder, if good and sufficient reason exists, through police cordon, by the officer or non-commissioned officer”
Over the last few days, there were instances where media workers were left to the mercy of irate protesters and when they sought to get to a safe place beyond police barricades, senior and junior police ranks have been denying them that privilege although after being shown the badges and explaining the situation at hand to the respective police officers.
“During this week, media workers were verbally assaulted outside the tabulation centre. This assault rose to an alarming level on Friday afternoon into the night when party supporters gathered outside of the GECOM Secretariat and prevented the press from accessing interviews and GECOM in full view and presence of Police Officers and party representatives.” The GPA noted.
It’s statement further stated, “Media workers were verbally abused based on the media outlet they represented and their ethnicity, as members of the crowd attempted to even check packages that included their equipment and food in their possession and prevented them from accessing their colleagues to obtain their dinner or to rotate.”
Police officers when approached by journalists and media workers to inform that they felt their lives were in danger and their safety threatened, would deny them safe passage through crowds and beyond barriers, stating that they are working on instructions from GECOM. It is unclear since when and where the police standing Operating Procedures, police officers would be taking instructions from civilians, let alone the Guyana Elections Commission whose business is only that of managing the electoral process in the country.
“Late on Friday night, as the declaration for District Four was to be made, there was an outright blockade of the media by the crowd in full view of Police and party representatives of the Coalition as one media worker reported that she was nearly physically assaulted.” It was noted by the GPA.
“From the start of results tabulation, GECOM and the Guyana Police Force have played dodge ball with the safety and security of media workers and requests for a secured spot outside of the tabulation centre have been met with refusal based on which agency has responsibility for security on the ground.” The Guyana Press Association noted also.
In its conclusion, the association noted in its statement that “As such, media workers were prevented from conducting interviews of persons leaving the centre about the situation which arose last night. Based on what we have seen, the safety of media workers continues to be treated with a lack of interest by all those concerned with elections.”