On World Press Freedom Day 2023, the Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister, Kwame Mc Coy, stated that “Government (meaning the People’s Progressive Party/Civic) does not dodge the media, and is always willing to engage.” He expanded on this, noting, “We are perhaps one of the most readily available sets of Government officials, especially from the Cabinet level, where we are on outreaches after outreaches in communities…We don’t dodge or hide from the media because we know that you (the media) are playing an important role by pursuing us and seeking answers and wanting information.”
What can I say to this pronouncement? First, in terms of mainstream media, the PPP/C Government has never sought to stifle any entity, and has allowed ‘one and all’, irrespective of personal agendas, to go about their work in a most unimpeded manner.
Yes, Government personnel, including Members of the Cabinet, have had quite a few spats with various media houses, but at no time were suppression, coercion or threats used. All of the fraternities have been allowed to go about their business in whatever way they wanted. For example, even without pulling printed items, the public knows what is the drive of Kaieteur and Stabroek News. Both entities seem possessed with Government antipathies. This is their right, and it has gone on to an obsessive level, where even if and when events are being covered, opinion pieces reflect biases and condemnation, even for basic everyday peccadillos.
Readers, this takes me back to the erstwhile era of pre-1992. Back then it was the People’s National Congress (PNC) who went to the extreme of controlling the media. I recall when, in 1970, LFS Burnham acquired the national newspapers — the “Daily and Sunday Chronicle” and the “Daily and Sunday Guyana Graphic” in 1973 — and merged them as the “Guyana Chronicle” in 1976.
During that very year, “Radio Demerara” was purchased and merged with the already state-owned “Guyana Broadcasting Corporation”. As one local editorial highlighted, “In conjunction with the sycophantic treatment of Burnham, the P.N.C. and its ideology, the media were used to viciously attack the opposition (PPP). The racist line that Burnham and the P.N.C. could not overtly espouse (being protective of their “progressive” Third World reputation) was delegated to the House of Israel. This group fanned the ethnic fears of the PNC supporters of being dominated by the traditional supporters of the PPP by violently attacking them while predicting an imminent racial “Armageddon” in Guyana.
The independent media became vestigial: a weekly four-page tabloid (P.P.P.’s Mirror) and three “eight by seventeen” mimeographed newsletters (two — W.P.A.’s ‘Open Word’ and ‘Dayclean’ — together with “Catholic Standard” of the Catholic Church). Even these vestiges were harassed continuously by libel suits, intimidation of journalists, and non-delivery of newsprint.
During that horrible era, on 14, July 1979, Bernard Darke, a British-born Guyana-based Jesuit priest and photographer for the Catholic Standard, was stabbed to death by members of the House of Israel, a religious cult closely tied to the People’s National Congress, while photographing Working People’s Alliance demonstrations against the PNC. Guyana’s Stabroek News described this murder as “the low point of democracy in Guyana” and, for those in the media, “perhaps the most traumatic event of the Burnham regime. As we all know, it got worse – Rodney was killed.
How different the present regime is, and how times have changed. Suffice it to say no one can truly say that his/ her work journalistically is in a milieu of fear or intimidation.
Today, as of now, and at any time and place, the media are allowed to agitate, investigate, and scrutinise our leaders and institutions. And why not? After all, “Freedom of the press states that expression and communication through published media – like in print and video – is a right, but with its caveat. We all agree that “Common limitations to freedom of speech relate to slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labelling, non-disclosure agreements, the right to privacy, the right to be forgotten, public security, and perjury.” For, in a world without journalism, we would be vulnerable to manipulation, and have no way of even knowing, much less fighting back.
I take the side of Kwame McCoy, who correctly and soundly iterated that “The PPP/C Government has posited that, in the wake of recognizing the role of the media in holding office-bearers accountable, it is ‘readily available’ to answer and provide information… (but) contended that his administration also places emphasis on protecting the rights of media workers.”
His succinct explanation is that “We will always be the protector of rights in our country at all times. We will always protect the rights of journalists, media practitioners, groups in our society, and every single citizen of this country; and visitors too. We believe that we truly embody the true spirit and meaning of what it is to encourage and facilitate rights throughout our country…(and thus) in the execution of duties, there will be no interference.”
Long live the dailies -Chronicle, Times, Stabroek, and Kaieteur. Continue to ‘do your thing fearlessly but legally.’
H B Singh