The right to free speech is fundamental and inalienable; it is a natural right. Yet, free speech is one of the facets of individual freedom most often attacked and most often denied. No society can thrive without the freedom of expression.
Guyana offers some interesting insights.
During the height of PNC authoritarian rule, free speech was impossible. Burnham and his cabinet dominated the media, and made sure that Opposition publications (such as The Mirror and Dayclean) were starved for newsprint. PNC officials had the radio stations at their disposal, yet that did not stop them from breaking up meetings and rallies with goon squads, some of whom were imported for that sole purpose.
Today, the exact Opposite is true. We have perhaps the most open media in the world. In this space, newspapers, television and social media can do, and indeed do, anything they want. Every day, blatant disinformation, distortion, and even outright lies are peddled in two Opposition-friendly newspapers and elsewhere. Yet, Government officials are swiftly condemned if they do the right thing and respond to the disinformation.
Why should the President, Vice President, Cabinet Ministers, and other Government officials not have the same right of response that every other source in this country has?
Why should the Government stay silent while misleading statements, many of them utterly dangerous, are bandied about in what has become a 24-7 disinformation campaign?
A big problem in Guyana is that two major newspapers are directly connected to the Civil Society elites and to the Opposition parties. What we have, then, is a comprehensive system wherein the Opposition peddles falsehoods and these are carried by the news outlets as news. When Government officials correct the record, the guilty parties find favour within their circular system of protecting disinformation under the banner of free speech.
The Constitution of Guyana guarantees free speech. The press and media houses have that right in this country. That right should also be fully extended to Government officials.