Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy

Dear Editor,

The Stabroek News’ editorializing of the Government’s blatant discriminatory decision to starve that paper from tax payer generated revenue in order to censor exposure of wrong doing and other excesses, takes a page right out of the playbook of a black-owned and operated New York newspaper. William Tatum, the then owner and editor of the New York Amsterdam News carried a weekly editorial in the mid to late eighties in protest of what he and many others considered to be Mayor Ed Koch’s divisive politics in a city fuming with racial and ethnic tension. The editorial protest eventually culminated with David Dinkins defeating Ed Koch in the Democratic primary, and with Koch’s support, defeating Rudy Giuliani in the general elections to become the first black Mayor of New York City.

For the record let me state that whatever his politics, I considered Ed Koch to be a very pleasant and very witty individual. But shunting that explanatory digressing aside, I am not married to the notion that the goal of the Stabroek News is a changing of the guard at State House. Perhaps more than any other entity, that newspaper can lay claim to being instrumental in the efforts to get the current regime into power, and the ties between the two were cemented “back in the day”. But a win for them translates into a win for independent press freedom in Guyana, a reality that, despite advancements, has not yet achieved 100% proportions.

The convenient and utterly hypocritical and partisan postulations that attempt to define the Government’s actions for other than it is represents the entropic trend in the discourse on democracy, in the discourse on criminality, in the discourse on everyone of the issues that functions like a noose around the neck of progress and development in our nation. Where are the many who pointed fingers in the past and screamed indignantly at like behaviours of press censorship they perceived to be emanating from the then regime? Don’t cry for me Argentina, but the answer is simple. They have either crept into shells of obscurity, issued diluted ripostes that are transparently condescending, or made a complete 360 degree turnabout in their opinions and interest on the importance of press freedom. Thomas Jefferson cautioned that quote “Our Liberty depends on freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost”. Activism for press freedom and legally binding access to information in Guyana has to be unqualified, unconditional, divorced from the vagaries of internecine grievances. Be-cause if you don’t holler now, who will be around to holler when your time comes?

More than a year ago I wrote a letter in which I included the following quote from the Dakar Conference on World Press Freedom in 2005, to wit, An “independent, free and pluralistic media have a crucial role to play in the good governance of democratic societies, by ensuring transparency and accountability, promoting participation and the rule of law, and contributing to the fight against poverty”. As articulated by Walter Cron-kite, a pioneer of broadcast journalism in the United States of America, “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy”.

And when that democracy is no more mature than a toddler struggling to maintain balance but falling often and heavily, an impartial referee or umpire supervising the interplay between the Government and the populace, between the powerful and the powerless, between the have a lot and the have nothing, becomes crucially imperative to its stability and progressive development. The order of political and governmental operations in Guyana is the closest thing to a dictatorship in which there are free and fair elections. Half of the media is owned and controlled by the political forces that win the elections and make up the Government. The elections amount to an affirmation of ethnic numerical superiority, despite the utterly dishonest efforts by many sycophants to obscure the fact that the 54% electoral margin of victory represent a winning portion of the total votes cast, as opposed to a measure of the totality of eligible voter support for the victors. With very few pillars in place to maintain its wobbling foundation, the budding democracy in Guyana will not find traction when half of what passes for the independent print media is being throttled by the powers that be. This has to resuscitate a sense of d

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