A few hours after having sent off my second letter on the Ashley Anthony/ Caribbean Press fiasco, I received a telephone call from a Ministry of Culture official inquiring about my home address. After having given it, a short time after I received another call for more detail about directions to get to the address I had freely given. Having signed for the envelope, courtesy of Culture Permanent Secretary Alfred King, I opened it to extract, as I had predicted, a lawyer’s letter from Park Avenue, New York firm Cozen O’Connor, threatening legal action under “Section 4 et al” of what I presume to be the Laws of Guyana, and not New York State. Chapter 6:03 (Defamation Act) Section 4 (Slander affecting official, professional or business reputation), states:
“In any action for slander in respect of words calculated to disparage the plaintiff in any office, profession, calling, trade or business held or carried on by him at the time of the publication, it shall not be necessary to allege or prove special damage, whether or not the words are spoken of the plaintiff in the way of his office, profession, calling, trade or business.”
While the letter tacitly admits that the Caribbean Press did in fact publish Ashley Anthony’s book, it goes on to claim that this publication was “privately funded” – in short, the subject Minister is in fact claiming to have used the state-funded (not simply state run as the letter disingenuously offers) as a vanity press to produce his daughter’s work, a privilege that has not been extended as far as I know to the general public.
I failed A-level law horribly but I humbly direct Minister Anthony to Section 8 of Cap., 6:03, which states:
“In any action for libel or slander in respect of words consisting partly of allegations of fact and partly of expression of opinion, a defence of fair comment shall not fail by reason only that the truth of every allegation of fact is not proved if the expression of fair comment having regard to such of the facts alleged or referred to in the words complained of as are proved.”
The lessons learned from discovery in the Freddie Kissoon libel case, brought against Kissoon by former President Bharrat Jagdeo, may have been lost on Minister Anthony, but should he see it fit to make good his threat of litigation, he should be prepared to have his management of cultural policy in Guyana – from Carifesta to the Caribbean Press – held under a microscope, inclusive of his awarding of contracts, emoluments paid to consultants, and the selection of contingents for overseas events in which the ministry has taken part.
Dr Anthony should also be ready to provide the date in which the policy governing the Caribbean Press shifted from publications of historical or literary value – as judged by an advisory committee, including Dr Ian McDonald – to one in which a thirteen-year-old with little or no history of exemplary writing can have her father pay what I presume to be fair market value for the use of the Press’ brand and whatever other unnamed resources.
I personally have not found any such announcement of a policy shift, including when the Minister handed over more of the “Guyana Classics” series to Caricom last week, or during the press conference of the book launching in which the mention of the Caribbean Press as publisher was conspicuously absent.
What also would be eminently helpful to the Minister and for the elucidation of the general public – is a full catalogue, in print and on the ministry’s website (which does not even mention the Caribbean Press), of all the titles published, and information about the authors.
When the initiative out of which the then unnamed state-funded mechanism was announced five years ago, I specifically warned about the dangers of political control of such ventures, and called for an independent council to be established, which could then award publication grants to writers on the basis of merit.
This is the similar to the suggestion that owner of Peepal Tree Press (a private company which receives UK government funding), Jeremy Poynting, made recently in a comment on an article published in the online edition of the journal, Small Axe:
“…. the funding we receive does not come directly from the government though it is ultimately tax-payers money, but indirectly through the wholly independent Arts Council of England — which has strategic goals, but never interferes with our practices. It is a hands-off model that those Caribbean governments who do provide some funding for the arts (Guyana and the Caribbean Press, and Barbados and the NCF) should feel able to trust.”
In closing, if Minister Anthony cannot withstand legitimate public scrutiny without resorting to puerile and hollow threats, he should resign and make place for a more competent successor. I cannot be bullied (I am still awaiting condemnation of either my or the Minister’s actions by the local literati, as it were). The time Dr Anthony spent on retaining a private New York based attorney to attempt to intimidate me, he should have dedicated to ensuring that his Georgetown-based ministry is run on the principles of fairness and competence.