COMMONWEALTH OBSERVERS have had some harsh words for the Guyana media in its coverage of the elections and expressed concern about the “liberal” use of state resources by the ruling party. In a Commonwealth observer group press briefing at the Cara Lodge in Georgetown, chairman of the group, Denis Marshall, said concerns were raised that the code of conduct for political parties and the media were not respected. “A lack of independence and impartiality of the media remains a problem. In particular, reporting from the Guyana Elections Commission’s (GECOM) media monitoring unit shows that state-owned television, radio and print media showed overt bias in favour of the government and ruling party,” stated Marshall. He added that this “overt media bias and the resources at the disposal of the incumbent” created an insufficiently level playing field for the campaign. In fact, he explained that in the past month the state-owned Chronicle newspaper had provided 95 per cent neutral and positive coverage for the ruling People’s Progressive Party-Civic (PPP/C), while the other state-owned NCN TV and Voice of Guyana Radio provided 74 and 88 per cent neutral and positive news. But, he added, state-owned media was not alone in presenting biased reports, and urged all journalists to pursue the highest standards of professionalism and independence. “While the development of codes of conduct for parties and media is welcomed, it is not enough for them merely to be signed by stakeholders. Such codes must also be respected and, where necessary, include mechanisms for enforcement,” Marshall remarked. On the issue of campaign financing, Marshall noted that state resources were used in the interests of the ruling party, adding that “we do believe that the whole area of campaign financing needs to be tightened up. There’s been a fairly liberal interpretation of the rules, shall we say, and that is one area that could stand for reform completely”. Commending the smooth flow of voting last Monday, except for isolated incidents of disturbance in south Georgetown, he said polling stations had opened on time, the secrecy of the vote was maintained, political parties had their agents at the stations, and voters were free to make their choices. He also commended GECOM’s preparation for the election, and said the slow process of results was an attempt to ensure 100 per cent transparency in a country where distrust had been created in the not-too-distant past. He expressed the hope that this would improve once trust was maintained. Meanwhile, head of Guyana’s observer team, the Electoral Assistance Bureau, Malcolm Rodrigues, rapped GECOM for not allowing some of his team to monitor the polling at one far-flung station. He said it was “very important that GECOM remember its obligation to the nation and that the nation comprises people who live in the mountains and forests…and a number of our observers walked for over a day to a polling station and were told they would not be allowed in”.