The perseverance, hard work and sterling contributions of several Guyanese journalists were highlighted recently when the local United Nations (UN) office held its inaugural media awards.
UN Guyana joined its counterparts in celebrating 70 years on Saturday October 24 2015. It was then that the media was honoured for the critical role it played in keeping developmental issues on top of the agenda. The body awarded local journalists, who despite facing many challenges, braved the odds and brought voice to the local people and light to issues plaguing the country.
During the black-tie event, which was held at the Georgetown Club, the work of the UN, its agencies, funds, and programmes, both in Guyana and nearly 200 countries abroad, came in for high praises.
In attendance was President David Granger and his wife, Sandra Granger, UN Resident Coordinator Khadija Musa, members of the diplomatic corps, members of parliament (MPs), the local media corps and private sector representatives, among other dignitaries.
During the evening of wine and fine dining, it was emphasized that time and time again the UN, like journalists, has been the source of high praise and bitter criticisms.
UN at 70
It was Musa who remarked that seven decades after its founding, the UN today remains the only platform in the world that brings together friends and foes on the world stage. The UN, she said, was created to save succeeding generations from war, to protect human rights, establish conditions of justice and to promote social progress and better standards of living.
“In 70 years, the United Nations has been the subject of much debate, praise and equal share of criticisms. As Dag Hammarskjöld, the great second Secretary-General, once said ‘The United Nations wasn’t created to take humanity to heaven but to save them from hell,’” Musa said.
The UN Guyana leader shared the view that global problems cannot be conquered by one nation but must rather be solved as a united unit since the collective approach presents the best forum to meet challenges.
The developmental objectives, she intimated, remains critical on the UN’s agenda. Specifically in Guyana, she said UN works towards a number of objectives, including nutrition security, protecting the rights of children, promoting dialogue, improving governance, education planning, promoting sexual and reproductive health, supporting essential health services, providing policy guidance and strategic support for the extractive industries.
The UN Resident Coordinator told those who gathered that ending poverty, fighting inequality and injustice in addition to fixing climate change were top priority areas for the body.
“The UN never fails…the UN will always be there and the UN thanks its member states for the support it has received to date for 70 years,” Musa remarked. She reflected that the UN started with 50 countries and today it has almost quadrupled, having 193 countries in its charter.
Leaving a Mark
Similarly, President of the Guyana Press Association (GPA), Neil Marks in his remarks said that the press body was also celebrating 70 years. He said, like the UN, the local media fraternity has borne the brunt of stinging criticisms just as praise is also heaped upon them.
Marks added that the media, like the UN, has sought to keep the peace, though perhaps with less success and favour as the international body. The GPA President told the gathering the media has been subject to much hardships.
The challenges, he said, have been many in both the pre- and post-independence era. “Some of us have worked very hard over the years, putting our lives at risk in order to do the job that we do, while others have tried to strangle us,” he remarked.
Marks highlighted that the media has fought back in face of injustice and attempts to infringe on freedom of speech.
“There have been efforts to threaten us, to censor us but we have prevailed and we are still here today. It is little wonder that we continue to advocate that the press be kept separate from all forces,” belaboured the GPA President.
He said regardless of the way the media is perceived, it has played a vital role in keeping society together. “As journalists we do not work to get awards but when we do, it feels really good,” ended Marks.
His remarks were followed by Chief Judge, Dr. Paloma Mohamed. I
n the prelude to unveiling the awards, she said they were premised that the promotion of the development works of UN through the media is necessary in raising the public profile of the organisation. “As primary functionaries of information gathering, framing and dissemination, all media workers and journalists have a huge responsibility to analyse situations and to keep developmental concerns on the national agenda,” she stated.
The Chief Judge commented that the stories submitted were generally poignant and strong. Quoting the works of her fellow judge (Volderine Hackett), she said the pieces called attention to some social ills in far-flung places such as in ‘Welcome to Angoy’s Avenue’ or to pressing problems such as teenage pregnancy or the slow development of Lethem or the extent of palm mite problems in Guyana.
“Many stories were good, interesting, poignant and sensitively written. The ones that went off the beaten track and brought to the fore something different and somewhere forgotten seemed to carry significant potency,” Dr. Mohammed said.
“These stories were rather in-depth, they went beyond officialdom and had a variety of use. Yes, the voices of ordinary people matter and we heard them through these pieces,” she said, beaming.
Besides Dr. Mohamed, the judges were veteran journalist and founder of first online news agency Denis Chabrol, Deputy Programme Director of Communications at CARICOM Volderine Hackett along with University of Guyana Communications Studies Lecturer Terrence Esseboom.
Media workers were recognized for their coverage on several social issues/areas. These were HIV and AIDS, Human Rights, Food and Nutrition Security, Involvement of Youth and Women in Agriculture, Health, Child Protection, Youth and Adolescent Development and Participation, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Adolescents and Youth Development and Participation; the Environment as well as Poverty and Governance.
Media operatives were awarded as such:
- Stabroek News Senior Reporter, Gaulbert Sutherland (Human Rights – Print)
- Stabroek News Reporter, Roger Wong (Food and Nutrition Security – Print)
- Guyana Chronicle Editor, Tajeram Mohabir (Involvement of Youth and Women in Agriculture – Print)
- Guyana Chronicle Editor, Tajeram Mohabir (Health – Print)
- Stabroek News Reporter, Sharda Bacchus (Child Protection – Print)
- Kaieteur News Reporter, Desilon Daniels (Poverty and Governance – Print)
- Stabroek News Reporter, Thandeka Percival (Food and Nutrition Security – Online)
- Kaieteur News Reporter, Desilon Daniels (Sexual and Reproductive Health – Print)
- Kaieteur News Reporter, Sharmain Grainger (HIV and AIDS – Print)
- Kaieteur News Reporter, Nicholas Peters (Youth and Adolescent Development and Participation – Print)
- Demerara Waves Reporter, Tamara Rodney (Health – Online)
- Guyana Chronicle Reporter, Ravin Singh (The Environment)
- Stabroek News Reporter, Zoisa Fraser (Poverty and Governance – Print)
- Government Information Agency (GINA) Communications Director, Shivanie Rampersaud (Health – Online)
Sutherland was named United Nations Champion Journalist after judges found that he had made the most submissions of a consistently high quality. His newspaper also copped the award for being the media house with the most print entries while GINA was awarded for having done the same, albeit online.