Criticism of the gov’t and ads

In his most recent defence of the government’s decision to withdraw ads from Stabroek News, President Jagdeo attempted to dismantle the argument by this newspaper that its editorial independence and criticisms of the government were behind the cut-off.

The President pointed to what he said were regular and trenchant criticisms of the government in the Kaieteur News which is now the beneficiary of the ads taken away from Stabroek News. If it were the case that criticisms of the government were behind the SN cut-off then why would the government continue advertising with the Kaieteur News? It may appear to be an irresistible argument but it is not.

Discerning members of the public have already gleaned that the President favours a new breed of businessmen he finds a common cause with and who provide `critical support’ of sorts.

So it doesn’t matter much if there are one or two columnists or the occasional editorial which strikes at the government. It is what the newspaper might turn a blind eye to or help to promote which would be of greater intrinsic value to President Jagdeo. It is the value of the alliance that has been forged. One of its own letter writers who previously wrote exclusively to KN made the argument that the paper no longer tolerated certain criticisms of the government. Perhaps stung by this attack and aware of murmurs to this effect it then resumed carrying letters by the writer in question. It has also been pointed out by the President of the Guyana Press Association Mr Dennis Chabrol that the President had also taken to making snide and uncomplimentary remarks about this newspaper, treatment not extended to other newspapers. Perhaps aware of this reality there was a recent knock on KN in a GINA press release reporting the President’s views on remarks by the Opposition Leader, Mr Corbin.

What we believe has infuriated President Jagdeo is Stabroek News’ determination to hold him and his government accountable and to expose wrongdoings. There is a long list of items and reportage that has made his government uncomfortable. Prime among these is the reporting on the depredations of the death squads and how President Jagdeo’s government had been linked to them. Other issues extend from scandals such as the export of dolphins from within the Office of the President to the calamities of the President’s Youth Choice Initiative to the broken promise to properly consult on the casino legislation to the secret MOU signed with Buddy’s, embedded within which was an implicit promise on the casinos, to the hopelessly incompetent fight against the drug lords.

More recently, the President’s flouting of the constitutional requirement to provide reasons for the non-assent to bills and an array of other areas have incurred his wrath. The tone was set in that pivotal address in which President Jagdeo launched the PPP/C’s campaign for the 2006 general elections when he embarked on a virulent attack on Stabroek News and its Editor-in-Chief. It must have been decided since then that the ads would be withdrawn.

There is hardly a soul on the streets who would believe that the Government Information Agency would have been able to take a decision of this kind on its own. Its later clumsy handling of the termination of the advertising exposed its tangential relationship to the matter.

Those with eyes and ears know why the ads were withdrawn and know that it is related to the independent editorial stance of the newspaper and its unshakeable commitment to the principles of press freedom, accountability, fairness and openness. No amount of persuasion will change this objective assessment.

The government is completely isolated on the ads issue. It cannot point to a single major opinion that has backed or understands its decision to withdraw advertisements wholesale from SN. Its support is derived from its handmaidens in the media and a clutch of sycophantic and opportunistic followers. The letter-writing phantom rabble that fills the pages of the state paper doesn’t even register on the radar.

Support for Stabroek News against the cut-off has come from the trade unions, private sector, political parties, media groups both here and abroad and influential citizens who once fought alongside President Jagdeo’s party in challenging the dictatorship. Even President Jagdeo’s own party has not taken a public position in support of the withdrawal. Indeed, former President Jagan in one of her Mirror columns said it was time to end the boycott.

For months now, the government has avoided responding to the special rapporteur of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the reasons for the withdrawal of ads. This is a stern test of the quality of its governance and openness. This is a case that is certainly not closed.

The President is completely marooned on this issue. As the year comes to an end and various human rights reports are compiled and circulated it is not the President who is going to be identified as a violator of press freedom.

Sadly, it will be Guyana. It will come to be reported and inscribed that a PPP-led government was offending the basic right to press freedom as enshrined in a specific formulation in the Declaration of Chapultepec. For a party which experienced the excruciating agony of the denial of press freedom in the Burnham years it will be a very bitter pill to swallow. The fight continues.

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