The withdrawal of ads does the government no credit

Dear Editor,

The issue of the withdrawal of ads from Stabroek News was brought back to public notice by the demonstration organised by the newspaper outside the recent Commonwealth Finance Min-isters Conference, when the police saw it fit to deny the protestors the right to bear placards, which by any standard are a form of speech.

As senior counsel once argued in a newsprint case in the PPP’s favour, the right to freedom of speech does not prescribe the quantity of speech to be allowed.

It may be added that the right does not choose for the citizen the form of speech she or he is entitled to. The placard denial, even if partial, had an aim, and it reminds us of some of the measures the PPP and others opposed before 1992.

Many citizens and other observers do not accept the government’s defence of its denial of a significant number of government ads to Stabroek News. Our reply to that worn-out argument that no one protested when Kaieteur News for many years did not receive government ads is that if Kaieteur News had publicly raised the issue it would surely have won wide solidarity, including ours.

Circulation statistics are clearly in dispute, but equally clearly, circulation statistics are not the issue, as many have pointed out before us. The government’s argument appears to be that taxpayers’ money, our money, should automatically go to the state newspaper, whatever its circulation, and to the PPP party newspaper, whatever its circulation, so the only issue was whether money should go to the Stabroek News or the Kaieteur News.

Accepting that questionable argument for a moment, whether or not Stabroek News’ circulation is higher or lower than Kaieteur News’ no sane person can deny that the Stabroek News is a leading daily newspaper of Guyana, enjoying a popular circulation base in various parts of the country. To deny it the advertisements of twenty-nine government agencies is an act of discrimination against those who rely on that paper for information and can be seen as a form of coercion to cause them to change their newspaper preference if they wish or need to see the ads.

That the Kaieteur News carries articles critical of the government and still receives government ads is a welcome attitude on the government’s part. Its virtue fades, however, when the same attitude is not applied in the case of the Stabroek News.

We call on the government to reverse its decision to withdraw the ads from Stabroek News. It is a decision which does it no credit.

Yours faithfully,

Alissa Trotz, Dennis Wiggins, Andaiye, Eusi Kwayana, David Hinds, Moses Bhagwan, Nigel Westmaas, Lincoln van Sluytman, Jai Parsram, Kathy Wills and Sara Abraham

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