Radio, cable licences should be withdrawn, Ramkarran says

The radio and cable licences controversially awarded by former president Bharrat Jagdeo shortly before he left office in 2011 should be withdrawn, says former PPP stalwart Ralph Ramkarran who suggested that the “public relations disaster” is bad for the government.

“There is an urgent need to end the controversy of the licences where it is dripping daily poison against Dr Jagdeo and the government. There is equally the need to end the court proceedings,” said Ramkarran, in his column published in the Sunday Stabroek yesterday. Ramkarran, who quit the party last year after nearly 50 years of membership in a row over his concern about the corruption problem in the country, said that the outcome of two court cases challenging the allocations would be uncertain and it would give the matter a public life of “unendurable” longevity.

“Are Dr Jagdeo and the government prepared for this? Are they prepared to lose the case, a possibility with all court matters? Is it not better politically to cut your losses? Dr Jagdeo has never backed down from or conceded anything or any argument, however trivial,” said Ramkarran. He added that this was when Jagdeo was president. “This matter is harming him and the party. With some creative public relations accompanying the withdrawal of the licences, everyone can emerge without suffering any humiliation and with dignity intact,” the former Speaker of the National Assembly added.

Ramkarran’s call follows similar appeals from various organizations and even United States Ambassador to Guyana Brent Hardt who last week called for the National Broadcasting Authority to “promptly review and approve” qualified applicants for radio licences, even as Attorney General Anil Nandlall considered the possibility that the “right methodology” might not have been used in the allocations made by Jagdeo. Ambassador Hardt had noted the statements of concern in the matter by numerous international bodies, such as the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM).

In his column, Ramkarran noted that the controversy surrounding the issue of radio and cable licences by the last administration in its dying days and adopted and defended by the administration of President Donald Ramotar, is not going away. “Apart from a tepid intervention suggesting that President Jagdeo was keeping a promise to open up the airwaves, the government has made little attempt to launch a proactive defence of Dr Jagdeo. The result is that there have been demonstrations, protests, statements, newspaper advertisements and more, decrying not only the manner and timing of the issue but the persons to whom the issue was made, alleging bias and nepotism. Some of the criticisms have been egregiously vilifying,” he wrote.

“The reluctance of the government to take on the critics of the licences issue is mystifying when contrasted with its vigorous support for Dr Jagdeo’s comments on the resurgence of anti-Indian sentiments or the loud and sustained campaign in opposition to the Budget cuts,” Ramkarran said.

He asserted that the muted defence of Jagdeo, “muted despite the Attorney General’s belated claim that the licences have a fair ethnic and geographic spread,” is still rather surprising given the “daily dose of demonization” by the press. Ramkarran said that as president, Jagdeo was always a keen student of public relations. “While he never passed up an opportunity to exploit the positive impact of good news, he almost always ensured that he or his administration answered, responded to, deflected, or explained away every criticism or negative news or comment,” he said while adding that a more flexible creativity in managing this process was prevented by the former president’s tendency to favour a uniformly robust and aggressive approach to criticism.

The former Speaker said that while the presidential platform is no longer available to Jagdeo, it is still available to his party which has adopted his decision and “that is why the virtual silence is inexplicable.”

In this light, Ramkarran questioned whether “there is no credible political, as opposed to legal, defence to the manner and timing of the issue and the beneficiaries of the largesse.” He said that if there is not, “should not there have been some indication that the government is taking steps to cut its losses from this public relations disaster which has befallen it with no end in sight?”

According to Ramkarran, both the PPP and government are aware that bad news of any kind, including natural disasters, is bad for politicians in office. “That is why there is constant criticism of the press for reporting crimes on the front page, while it is alleged that in countries with tourist economies, such as Barbados, crimes are reported in the inner pages,” he said.  He stated that the PPP and government, though adept at public relations, are allowing the press to roast Jagdeo daily. “There has been no real attempt to treat with this matter in such a way as to silence the critics or to remove the matter from their purview,” he said.

The former PPP executive member declared that the culture of the PPP often stands in the way of sensible compromise. “Every serious person in Guyana, including the PPP leadership, knew that talking to the opposition about the Budget would have resulted in much less dissension and a much more constructive result, even if the Budget may not have passed fully intact. But no talks took place. The reason is that when the PPP is confronted with criticism or the potential for criticism, it circles the wagons, closes ranks and shuts out all fresh air,” he said.

“It becomes paralysed into angry inaction. It feels that any talks, much less compromise, would be such a gross and humiliating exposure of weakness that it will crumble, collapse and lose power like it did in the 1960s. No one should underestimate the iron grip of this culture of deep fear on the psyche of the PPP. Of course there are many other underlying factors, such as ethnic composition and others, but these are beyond the scope of this article,” Ramkarran added.

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