Saturday, August 27, 2011

CCTV cameras can help in the fight against crime in Guyana

Recently in the media I recognised that public Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) surveillance has become part of new national security and crime fighting initiatives currently being undertaken by the Guyana government. I must commend those in the government responsible for taking this bold step at revolutionizing the way in which Guyanese law enforcement will be effected.
For those not familiar with how this kind of technology functions, CCTV video surveillance systems can either passively record and play back silent video at certain intervals, be actively monitored by security personnel, or use a combination of these methods. In the US and many other countries around the world, Law enforcement personnel actively monitor most municipally-operated systems, although in some cases volunteers and private security are also involved in some projects.
There are even school-based CCTV surveillance systems in some countries that also employ active, passive, and combined monitoring methods, depending on the financial resources and number and type of personnel available.
Many European countries now employ public video surveillance as a primary tool to monitor population movements and to prevent terrorism. The United Kingdom (UK) in particular relies extensively on video surveillance as a tool to fight crime and prevent terrorism. According to some researchers, the camera surveillance systems in the UK are discouraging and thus preventing crime. After the recent riots in London, many persons were arrested based on video footage sourced from CCTV cameras strategically placed around London.
A key player in the CCTV camera arena is facial recognition software. This expedites the identification process of persons captured on CCTV footage. Based on the establishment of a country’s information data base, and the level of security clearance of the persons using the software, basic or very detailed information about the person identified can be sourced.
That Guyana is heading in the direction of using CCTV surveillance is a step in the right direction. In these modern times, especially with widespread terrorism and the sophistication and frequency of crime, many countries around the world embrace the use of this technology.
Upon conducting some research I found that Canada began operating CCTV video surveillance on public streets and areas in the early 90s. Although its use is not as widespread as in the United Kingdom, CCTV surveillance is utilised by Canadian banks, restaurants and convenience stores, and at industrial sites, offices, apartment buildings, and public transit stations.
The French government permits electronic and CCTV surveillance in public places, including monitoring major roads and city and urban public areas. In Ireland, CCTV video surveillance has been used by private companies since the mid-1980's to monitor post offices, shops, banks, building societies, and shopping malls.
In Spain, the threat of terrorist attacks has caused extraordinary security measures to be taken by federal authorities, especially in tourist areas. The Spanish Interior Ministry also installed video surveillance equipment in public areas in the Basque region in an effort to combat street violence and politically motivated vandalism.
Even the principality of Monaco with its 500,000 inhabitants is monitored 24 hours-a-day by CCTV camera surveillance installed on buildings, rooftops, and street poles.
Are these countries “surveillance states”?
Are Guyanese living in developed countries around the world complaining about CCTV cameras? When members of APNU travel abroad are they really concerned that ‘big brother’ is watching their every move? 
CCTV cameras serve a very valid purpose in societies that are determined to curb crime and terrorism. Guyana might not be a terrorist haven but it sure has an escalating crime rate. There must be some amount of crime that can be prevented with the use of CCTV cameras.
Studies have shown a 4% decrease in crime in neighborhoods where CCTV has been installed. CCTV is most responsible for deterring auto thefts and has some effect on violent crimes (Welch & Farrington 2002). Evidence from the UK also shows that its use may reduce theft of motor vehicles and some other forms of acquisitive crime. There is also evidence that it works best in small enclosed areas (Gill & Spriggs 2005).
Regardless of the sophisticated technology employed to fight crime, basic Law enforcement principles and procedures must prevail. The Guyana Police Force (GPF) or whichever national intelligence agency is established must be able to use the information garnered from CCTV footage responsibly. Professional Law enforcement must be administered with the protection of Guyanese citizens as its major priority.
In all things there are consequences and unintended consequences. It is a pity that the APNU apparently can only emphasise the unintended consequences that might result from the establishment of modern crime fighting infrastructures and legislations. Perhaps strategically engaging the government in a manner that ensures severe measures are in place to avoid the abuse of its new crime fighting technologies and accompanying legislations might be more constructive.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Guyana is in need of urgent deregulation in radio.

A significant characteristic of human beings is their ability to communicate effectively. In contemporary times, the advancement of technology has considerably enhanced the ways in which humans communicate. Mass media is constantly being revolutionized with the rapid evolution of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). As these technologies continue their dizzying development, new media have been conceived and are also quickly evolving. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube MySpace and others have given people the ability to communicate in a highly specialized manner never before envisaged in mass media.     
In Guyana while there is the desire, capital and human resources for the expansion of some sections of the mass media, severe restrictions in the form of predatory legislation stifle in particular the deregulation of a key area in the broadcast sector; radio. Sadly after 19 years of democracy, Guyana is stuck with one radio station that is owned and controlled by the government.
Although some amount of deregulation has occurred in the print and television media, radio has remained firmly grasped in the clutches of government control. This has severely stunted the growth of radio in Guyana, while all other CARICOM democracies have made quantum leaps in their development and advancement of radio.
While underdevelopment in radio in Guyana might be a reality of myopic, narrow and in most cases partisan political objectives, the inflexible control on content that emanates from the government and its agencies, can most likely be seen as a violation of the peoples’ right to information.
This week it was reported in the media that Merundoi was temporarily taken off air because an episode was deemed ‘politically offensive’. After listening to the episode in question at (season 2 episode 29) I am still trying to figure out why such a decision was taken. There is absolutely nothing in the episode that appears to exploit traditional voting patterns. This programme follows the radio serial format of continuous dramatic fiction and is presented weekly. This would mean that with every episode the plot thickens and new revelations arise.
While Unique was asking Natasha an honest question on how she should vote, Natasha explains that in her home voting has a traditional pattern that she intends to follow. That is the basis of the voter education section of that troubled episode. The next episode might delve further into the issue on how some young people make their decision on voting. I am very sure listeners would want to hear how Unique decides on how she will choose the party for which she will vote. From all indications it seems as if Unique is determined to break the voting tradition in her home.
Where is the harm in this radio fiction? Are some persons scared at the way in which Unique might arrive at her decision? Merundoi is a very powerful series that has gathered a significant following in Guyana. I am very confident that the demography of its listening audience will reflect a generous mix of age, race, gender, location and political affiliation.
I can find absolutely nothing wrong with the content of the episode in question. The preceding episode dealt with Unique asking her grandmother some honest questions about voting. She also expressed her confusion in deciding how she should vote which escalated into a very heated discussion mainly because her granny laid down the traditional voting pattern of the family. That is a Guyanese reality!
The troubled episode in question saw Unique reaching out to her friend - something that most young people do - asking the same questions and getting the same response that she got from her granny. Again I ask where the harm in the script located. Many Guyanese are eagerly awaiting the development of the story to see how Unique arrives at her decision on how to vote.
I noticed that the management of NCN and Merondoi have come to some agreement and the programme will resume broadcast next week. Let us hope that the script writing is not altered to reflect Guyanese fantasy as against the realities that exist with regard to voter ignorance. After all this is an educational programme not a fairy tale.
Let Merundoi air and let honest voter education prevail.
Guyana is in need of urgent deregulation in radio. With the deregulation of radio in Guyana the establishment of sensible codes of practice which should guarantee the increase of quality broadcast standards should become reality. This should hopefully eradicate the triviality that currently passes for content regulation in radio.
 Medel & Salomon (2011) have persuasively stated that: “The freedom of expression is a pivotal component of our individual development – as human beings and as “political animals” – and to improve and radicalize democracies.”
If Guyana is indeed a democracy as our leaders would have us believe, then radio should be allowed to function democratically. Content regulations and censorship on radio must be done against established codes of practice and not by misguided fears and political coercion.