Those who follow news out of the USA would know that President Donald Trump is very comfortable with Fox News. That’s because of their very favourable reporting of him and the Republican Party which he represents. Other news outlets with unfavourable reporting are deemed “fake news” entities.
Some political pundits there have gone as far as branding Fox as anti-Democratic Party; Trump’s opposition. From its reporting, especially since he became President, it would be difficult to offer an opposing view on Fox’s political leaning.
That said, President Trump, via Twitter, very recently, surprisingly lashed out at the network. He had done so before, but this time it appears more sarcastic. This time, he was unhappy with some hosts he sees as moderate, and over some Democrats being interviewed on the network. That reportedly led to his latest attack. The Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, wasted no time in branding the attacks as “what dictators do” as part of shaming and shutting down the press.
Many would find it strange, or even unbelievable, that such developments have been associated with the USA, given that it’s the leader of the free world. What these developments probably demonstrate is the threat democracy faces, even in a place where threats are least expected. Some have asked that, if unfavourable reporting becomes a likely reason for threats in the bastion of democracy, what then can be expected in parts of the world where the label of freedom may just be a façade?
The reality in the face of that question may be more worrisome than thought. In Guyana, for instance, some recent developments would reveal such cause for worry. Leading these would probably be the President’s unilateral and unconstitutional appointment of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). In spite of this unconstitutionality being pointed out repeatedly, the President insisted he was within his rights. It took the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to officially deem the appointment unconstitutional, while reiterating the constitutional procedure in the process: The President must choose one person not unacceptable to him from a list of six submitted by the Leader of the Opposition.
Following that and ensuing efforts to have a Chairman appointed, the Government submitted eight names to be considered for the post. The President interpreted aspects of the CCJ’s ruling as allowing him to submit names. The Opposition Leader stated that he is not indisposed to such, but reaffirmed that the official submission is from him.
The action of the Opposition Leader has been seen as one of good faith, designed to get the process going. That said, concerns were subsequently raised by his office over what it sees as another attempt by the President to once again appoint a Chairman of his choice.
The eight names from the President’s side would have exacerbated related fears of the Opposition, given the known association of most, if not all, with the Government, and in particular the PNC.
If a Chairman is once again unilaterally appointed, it would be another telling blow to democracy here, and an act of utter disregard for the CCJ’s ruling.
Over time, the Government has shown its willingness to circumvent the Constitution and disregard the rule of law to satisfy its self-interest through convenient interpretation. Aside from the GECOM Chairman’s unconstitutional appointment, the Government, while in Opposition, refused to accept the court’s ruling on budget cuts for some agencies. Just recently, a Presidential order prevented the Finance Minister from being jailed for failing to honour a decision of the court. It makes one believe that recent statements from a few senior Ministers: that the CCJ cannot rule for Guyana, are not coincidental, but are of a seemingly engrained desire.
Promoting itself above the Constitution and the rule of law is epitomised through the action of the PNC’s flag having been raised in the compound of the Appeal Court, and flown higher than the national one. That particular action, years ago, spoke unambiguously to Party paramountcy’s superiority over the state apparatus.
During that period of totalitarianism, some media outlets were denied permission to import newsprint so as to subvert the publishing of news critical to the then Government.
While the term “fake news” may not have been used at that time, it’s context today could be seen as similar to how some media entities critical of President Trump in the USA are being branded. He threatened closure of some through a suggested challenge of their licences. That’s in the free world, and while there is little or no chance of such actions succeeding there, its promotion can possible give leverage to some administrations in other parts of the world.
Here, the Government has not held back in noting its displeasure when some media entities carry stories it deemed as unfavourable. While it may have stopped short of labelling any as “fake news”, its broadcasting regulatory arm has been accused by some of implementing censorship mechanisms, and, in the process, curtailing freedom of expression.
Nine frequencies were seized not too long ago. Is that the most ominous of signs which have crept in to what is supposed to be a democracy? The real answer stands the chance of being labelled “fake news”, as it could be seen as unfavourable.