Managing the politics of meaning – the case of the AP story on Guyana

Dear Editor,
The AP recently published a major report on Guyana, foregrounded on an outreach to Ann’s Grove by Prime Minister Mark Phillips, accompanied by several cabinet ministers. The news report, under the title “Oil boom transforms Guyana prompting a scramble for spoils” (written by Dánica Coto), has generated much international interest. It was reproduced in the Khaleej Times (UAE, May 12) and in the Daily Express (Trinidad & Tobago, May 9).
The reproductions, however, were different in both coverage and meaning. Whereas the Khaleej Times carried the article in full and under the same title as the AP’s, the Daily Express, under the more sensational title “Scramble for spoils in Guyana”, axed more than five hundred words from the original piece.
Although the Daily Express might claim that it edited the article for length, and had no political intention, the EFFECT of the editor’s scalpel is politically consequential, and must be exposed. I should state upfront that the purpose of this article is to show how an editor can rightfully claim to be sticking to facts, yet change the meaning of those same facts through deliberate pruning of a larger story.
In what follows, I provide from the original AP article quotes that were not published by the Daily Express, followed by an analysis of the effects of the omissions.
1. “Guyana signed the deal in 2016 with the ExxonMobil consortium, which includes Hess Corporation and China’s CNOOC, but did not make the contract public until 2017 despite demands to release it immediately.” Removal of this sentence clearly absolves the APNU-AFC of ownership and responsibility for the oil deal. The PPP/C has repeatedly stated that the deal should not have been signed in its extant form.
2. “The contract dictates that Guyana would receive 50% of the profits, compared with other deals in which Brazil obtained 61% and the U.S. 40%, according to Rystad Energy. But many have criticised that Guyana would only earn 2% royalties, something Jagdeo said the current government would seek to increase to 10% for future deals.” Omission of this sentence hides the fact that the Guyana deal, though unfavourable vis a vis Brazil’s, is better compared to arrangements with the US. More importantly, the erasure of the sentence completely silences the PPP/C commitment, as articulated by Dr. Jagdeo, to significantly higher financial yields for Guyana in future contracts.
3. “Aubrey Norton, leader of the opposition People’s National Congress that was part of the coalition that signed the deal, told AP that it made mistakes: “I have no doubt about that. And therefore, moving forward, we should rectify those mistakes.” This quote from Mr. Norton should never have been removed because the Hon. Opposition Leader – clearly, and without any ambiguity – admits his APNU-AFC coalition made the original mistakes.
4. “Guyana, a country of less than a million people, is poised to become the world’s fourth largest offshore oil producer in the world. Placing it ahead of Qatar, the United States, Mexico, and Norway.” The omission here, whether intentional or inadvertent, buries the most important thing about Guyana’s oil and gas sector; namely, it is of extraordinary magnitude by international comparison, and that the country is well-poised for an energy-based economic “take-off.”
5. In response to Norton’s fear of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, “Jagdeo, the vice president who once served as president, told AP that his party has created a special fund for oil revenues, with safeguards to prevent corruption, including appointment of an independent monitor and a board of directors to oversee the fund along with the finance minister.” Leaving this sentence out is tantamount to a massive violation of the ethics of responsible journalism. The Daily Express should have preserved this sentence, especially given the way in which its own title frames the whole society as “scrambling.” A scramble conjures up uncontrollable lawlessness, desperation, and in philosophical terms, a return to the ‘state of nature’ in the vile sense meant by John Locke and Thomas Hobbes.
6. Further, according to VP Jagdeo, “Parliamentary approval also is needed to decide how the funds would be used, he said, adding that oil revenues currently represent only a third of Guyana’s budget, and that increases in salaries might happen later. “At this point in time, we are not awash with money.” Leaving this out makes it appear that the PPP/C administration is not aware of the cost-of-living challenges in Guyana, and the need to raise salaries.
7. “Dr. Jagdeo also acknowledged that Guyana must take a cautious approach to avoid mistakes made by other countries.” This omission again hides the fact that the PPP/C is determined not to repeat mistakes made by other countries, or those made by the APNU-AFC.
The points above, left out of the Daily Express article, are central to a nuanced perspective of the oil and gas industry in Guyana, and the direction the country is going. The erasure of those crucial points, such as Opposition Leader Norton’s admission that his party signed a bad deal and concealed it from the public, amounts to a kind of journalistic protection racket, or corrupt journalism, if one wanted to be honest and direct. Keep in mind that the intent of the Daily Express is irrelevant. What matters is the effect of what the newspaper published.
Finally, I would like to offer two observations on the original AP article. Firstly, we did not have a ‘snap election.’ The truth is that the election should have taken place since March of 2019, but the APNU-AFC stole an extra year following the no-confidence vote in December 2018. Secondly, the AP article displayed some signs of intellectual laziness when is simple repeated that the PPP is an Indo-Guyanese party. That is simply not true.

Dr Randolph Persaud

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