The Chronicle editorial
What the Guyana Chronicle editorial of July 2nd, has wittingly or unwittingly succeeded in achieving is to focus attention again and perhaps conclusively on the need to end the abuse of the state media by ruling parties and their coterie of elites.
Under the title `Opposition rampages to sow disunity in the country’ the arguments presented by the writer are so inflammatory, tendentious and ultra vires of laws against racial hatred as to cause one to ponder whether the state newspaper has any understanding of the damage that can be caused by such statements and whether there is any responsible oversight of what transpires within its walls.
Similarly dangerous views broadcast in various media in other periods have spurred condemnation by the Chronicle itself and senior officials of the government. Yet, the government has been silent on this abomination and thus far only the Chairman of the company that publishes the Chronicle, Mr Keith Burrowes has put his name to an apology on behalf of the newspaper. Even then, the public has had no real satisfaction. The newspaper has not explained what went wrong neither has its editorial board clearly dissociated itself from the views expressed or stated what its position is on the writer of that particular leader. Moreover, the offending editorial was followed up after Mr Burrowes apology by an equally incendiary letter by a Mr Godfrey Skeete. The danger of such offensiveness and irresponsibility isn’t lessened by virtue of its medium, in this case a letter. Further, it denotes a defiance of Mr Burrowes’ mea culpa as it is unlikely that the gatekeepers at the Chronicle would not have recognized the dangers in Mr Skeete’s missive so shortly after the furore over the editorial. Freedom of speech in deeply divided and ethnically polarized societies like Guyana’s has to be responsibly exhibited and if a state-owned newspaper stands for anything it should be to ensure that the fabric of society isn’t rent. So if the publications in the Chronicle were not made in error what was their motivation? More on this later.
The key parts of the editorial were so sickening as to make it difficult to refer to or reproduce even for the sake of sober disquisition. The coup de grace was the following paragraph: “Black youths are socialized by opposition leaders to think that Indians robbed them to get rich, so they automatically feel that they have to wrest by force, even murder, anything Indians have. Hatred of Indians is ingrained into their psyche. Many Indian persons, who grew up in the arms of black people in rural communities have today become fearful anytime a black youth gets too close to them”. The writer traded shamelessly and recklessly on some stereotypes that are lazily bandied about without an attempt at serious discussion of any substantive issue. Though the memories are long faded and later generations know little about the politically-fuelled race disturbances of the sixties, the writer of the editorial exhibited no recognition of the sensitivities to be taken account of in the purveying of this hate speech.
In sowing these dangerous and divisive words, the writer used the term “socialized” to identify a guilty party – in this case opposition leaders. The whole thrust and intent of the editorial then became clearer. The writer provided no basis for the sweeping statement that the opposition has socialized some youth in a certain direction neither did the writer substantiate that the non-opposition had not been engaged in the same thing. It is highly irresponsible for the writer to allege without evidence that the opposition had been engaged in such acts. Which opposition leaders were these and what exactly have they done? Surely such `socializing’ of the youth is not a one-off thing. It would likely take years of clandestine meetings, sharing of pamphlets, discourses and other indoctrination to achieve this orienting of youth. So there must be mounds and mounds of evidence in plain view or waiting to be unearthed but the writer did not oblige readers with an iota of it. The writer also omits to address what the non-opposition was doing all of this time, why it had been unable to reverse this grotesque ‘socializing’ of the youth and whether it, too, had been engaged in such practices. Further, the writer fails completely to answer why alleged part-time `socializing’ of youth by opposition leaders is not being reversed or counteracted in homes where parents and elders would surely have significant sway and over a more sustained period.
Such flimsy argumentation as engendered in the editorial coupled with the official silence of the government can likely have only one meaning. Those who are in charge of the Chronicle are being enlisted in a dangerous campaign of division. The majority of the people who voted on November 28, 2011 did so with the intention of letting the PPP/C know that they were disenchanted with its governance and wanted change. This translated into opposition control of Parliament – a development completely alien to PPP/C governments overweened on healthy majorities. The PPP/C government has steadfastly refused to come to grips with the new reality in Parliament. The bewildering charge by President Ramotar that the general election was rigged and his subsequent declaration that he would sign no bill from Parliament that his party did not have an input in are redolent of the unwillingness by the PPP/C to accept that it has lost support and that improved and more inclusive governance are mandatory. This obstinacy is feeding a determination in factions of the government for a deepening of divisions along old fault lines so that when the opportunity arises for elections the PPP/C can prospect off its traditional vote and secure an overall majority and untrammelled control of parliament once again. This is what the offending editorial and similar pieces in the state media are likely pitched at.
The state paper must not be used in these dangerous machinations. The PPP complained for several decades about the abuse of the privately owned newspapers – the Chronicle was then among them - in the 1960s and their peddling of gross untruths and sickening scaremongering which were used to destabilize its government. This reality did win it some sympathy in 1992 when democracy was restored as it related to its need for a state paper to disseminate news related to the government. Unfortunately, with each passing year and intensifying in the latter years of the Jagdeo administration, the PPP/C has exploited the state media in exactly the same way it complained about in the past even if the transgressions have been of a different order and type. No state-owned paper should be hijacked the way the Chronicle has been by the PPP/C in a partisan and divisive mode without a pretense of being paper for all the people and groups of the country. Clearly the state media can no longer be abused in this manner and a determination must now be made about its future. The era of ministers descending on the Chronicle to alter copy, editors being called into meetings at the Office of the President and instructions being issued over the phone by propagandists must be swiftly ended.
Those in charge at the Guyana Chronicle must ensure that every last vestige of professionalism is employed to thwart attempts to ratchet up tensions as exemplified by the editorial of July 2, 2012. Such words as contained in the editorial have no place in nation building.