‘Clarification’

Dear Editor,

A clarification is required of the Sunday editor’s note attached to my letter (SN, Nov 21) regarding comments about my polling credential and academic achievements (‘Bisram did not get it wrong’).
The editor stated that the newspaper did not publish my “academic credentials and teaching experience on its own account, let alone at Mr Kissoon’s insistence.” So on whose account (or insistence) was it requested, investigated and published? Certainly not mine! And while I have no objection about information on or about me (where necessary) placed in the public domain, it is not something that I promote or undertook on my own contrary to the suggestion made in the editorial note.

Mr Kissoon affirmed in letters in SN (Nov 22) and KN (Nov 24), in contradiction to the editor’s note, that he requested said information though not in direct letters to the papers.  He requested information about me through his commentaries and published letters. Mr Kissoon said he did his own research and he had a reporter of the New York Times investigate my background and found “nowhere in the world is Mr Bisram a teacher.” Mr Kissoon went to pen at least a dozen letters and commentaries in KN demanding (more like
badgering) that the publishers and or editors of both papers investigate my academic background, employment status as a teacher, and the existence of NACTA and stop publishing my polls. Mr Kissoon even stated that he requested the information from SN but he got no response. KN ignored him but information on my background was obtained and published in SN although I felt most of the information had nothing to do with polling.

Several prominent individuals, who know me well and who are or were educators, such as Annan Boodram, Mahadeo Persaud, Lionel Peters, Vassan Ramracha, Ravi Dev, Baytoram Ramharack, Vishnu Mahadeo, etc, confirmed in letters published in the media that I have been employed as a teacher.  They also affirmed that they knew of the activities of Nacta that has been in existence for some two decades organizing lectures, conducting polls, and engaging in charitable activities, etc.

The editor further stated that SN published letters on the subject from me and a correspondent but failed to note we did so at the request of Mr Kissoon to correct the disinformation he was spreading about Nacta and myself.

Sunday editor Ms Anna Benjamin telephoned me (about three years ago) requesting information about my academic background, Nacta’s formation and activities, and my employment that was subsequently posted in SN. Mr Kissoon’s name came up in the conversation as one who requested the information. So information about my background was placed in the public domain in SN not on my account and to suggest otherwise is inaccurate. I was advised to respond to the query about my credentials and I did so accordingly. I do not recollect subsequent writings in which I enumerated my credentials other than in response to further queries from Mr Kissoon or making references to professors I studied under. I prefer to remain a humble servant of others rather than brag about achievements or what I have been doing for others in America and elsewhere and Guyana.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

Editor’s note
Contrary to what Mr Bisram claims, Stabroek News has never, at any time, either in our print or our online edition published information on Mr Bisram’s credentials in the form of a news report, an editorial, an editor’s note or a newspaper statement – which is what “on its [ie SN’s] own account” means. We have published letters to the editor from correspondents referring to his credentials, but that is not content generated by us.

Mr Bisram had a telephone conversation with Sunday Editor Anna Benjamin somewhere around September 18, 2009 in which she advised him to answer critics in two key respects: 1. that he reveal his substantive place of work; and 2. what the status of Nacta was and if it was still extant. She told him that the public was entitled to know where he taught (he had already disclosed in published correspondence that he was a teacher) and since it had no bearing on his polling activities, there was no reason to hide it; by refusing to make it public, he was just engendering unnecessary suspicion. He indicated a certain reluctance to do that, and when asked why said something about his pension, among other things. The Sunday editor then said that even if he wasn’t prepared to make it public, he should tell the newspaper, and he then told her.

Out of pure curiosity, not because it had any bearing on his polling, she asked Mr Bisram what he taught – which apparently was a range of subjects – and he also listed his academic credentials, another matter she did not regard as material to the conduct of his polling exercises or that needed to be published. He had probably already made public in a letter the course he had taken on statistics and polling, and if he did not, he certainly did so at some point, and that is the only qualification directly relevant to his surveys. It should be emphasised that neither the Sunday Editor nor anyone else at this newspaper “investigated” Mr Bisram’s qualifications or employment and therefore the paper was not in a position to confirm them or otherwise. As already stated above, the Stabroek News published nothing in relation to these issues, other than what correspondents said in letters to the editor.          

With respect to Nacta, Mr Bisram eventually explained it had started as a charity organization, with other elements such as polling appended, but at that point it was effectively defunct. She told him there was no reason why he shouldn’t say that he was conducting polls himself at that stage, and not on behalf of any organization; the credibility of the polls did not require Nacta’s name, and in fact, when this newspaper either part funded or commissioned the polls of 2001 and 2006, we assumed we were dealing with him alone.

She went on to tell him that contrary to a demand made in a letter by a critic, he should not reveal the names of those who conducted the interviews for the polls. What she did want to know, however, was that although we had been assured the surveys would be conducted across Guyana, how that had been accomplished. He then said he had hired people who came from the interior and were attached to certain institutions (which he named) who conducted the interviews when they went home on leave. The explanations seemed reasonable to her.

Not long after this conversation a letter was sent to us for publication by Mr Mike Persaud, in which he said Mr Bisram was assigned to Transit Tech High School in Brooklyn by the New York Department of Education. In view of his earlier expressed concerns about making his place of employment public, the Sunday editor warned Mr Bisram that we would publish it. He responded it didn’t matter if someone else revealed it. The letter was published on September 22, 2009. Mr Persaud also said in his letter that “NACTA is Bisram and Bisram is NACTA,” and that effectively he was a one-man operation. Furthermore, he also described how he came here with Mr Bisram in 1997 to conduct a poll paid for by the Chronicle, and how they went to UG campus where about 50 people were gathered after an advertisement had been placed in that newspaper. Mr Bisram hired about 20 canvassers, the letter continued, and these were assigned to the different regions and were issued with 100 questionnaires each.

While Mr Kissoon has been Mr Bisram’s most relentless critic over a very long time frame, the latter seems to have forgotten that long before the conversation of September 2009, he was already facing a chorus of critics. For our part we never had any doubt that for the surveys in which we had a financial input, Mr Bisram had conducted actual polls; his problem was that he undermined his own credibility by his plethora of letters to newspapers – a matter which Ms Benjamin raised with him in 2009, as had the late Mr de Caires on more than one occasion before that – and his own unnecessary secretiveness about two of the matters mentioned above, one of which did concern his polling directly, and the other of which did not require evasiveness on his part.   Our concern with the two polls with which we had a financial connection was that they should meet the standards laid down in the Media Code of Conduct for the elections, to which this newspaper was a signatory.

In addition, we did publish the fact that we had commissioned polls.

We will have nothing further to say on Mr Bisram’s credentials, and the correspondence on the matter is now closed.     



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