Democracy works best as a triangular love affair between the people of the society, elected government under free and fair national elections, and an independent, diverse, credible and ethical mass media.
Our society progressed since political independence so that today we have learned how to elect our government, under a relatively free and fair system.
Our society loves national elections, and we become quite excited at the prospect of exercising our voting rights as citizens.
One of our short-comings might be our misunderstanding of the role of the media in this love affair that makes for a working democratic culture.
Socio-economic progress happens in dictatorial societies such as China, Singapore and Cuba, but at incredible costs.
For a country like ours, democracy is the way to go. The best nations in the world work well under this triangle love affair we call democracy.
Given all the resources endowed upon us as a people, and given the fact that two sides of the triangle now fit into place, what could we do to speed up our progress as a 21st century society looking for our place on the world stage?
This question nags every Guyanese wherever he or she lives in this world. Every person wants a homeland to point to as a place of outstanding nationhood.
We want our birth land, our motherland, to stand out on the world stage as a place of modern progress.
An ideal step forward would be a Leadership Development course at the University of Guyana, with the main goal of training national leaders, including Members of Parliament, in the essence of democracy.
One aspect of this training would be a comprehensive course on the role of the media in building society.
A society develops through the trials of healthy, respectful debates, constructive dissent and mass-circulated conversations that seek authentically for national solutions.
Both national parties set up online social media pages to tout their messages and pull voters. But both parties circumspectly avoid dissent on their pages, and seem unwilling to engage in constructive criticism.
People complained online that their posts are being deleted off the pages of these parties, both of which have existed for over 50 years.
This is nothing short of primitive behaviour, from political parties seeking to govern this nation.
It’s like saying ‘if you don’t agree with us, we don’t want to hear from you, and you should remain silent’. That’s a backward view of what makes a healthy society.
The treatment of the national newspaper, Guyana Chronicle, over the past 50 years, including its nationalization under Forbes Burnham and the iron grip on it under the Jagdeo government, shows that the State remains mired in backward thinking where the mass media is concerned.
Officials continue to pour scorn on people’s complaints that the State strangles dissent and healthy debates in the national, tax-payer funded mass media.
For our society to develop under a democratic culture now running into its 20th year, we must allow our national voice, our national mass media, to speak freely and fairly.
David de Caires dedicated his life to open up the media in this country. He did an incredible job to give us the gift of an independent, professional, ethical daily newspaper.
The Stabroek News continues to play a crucial role in this country.
Just as we honour Dr Cheddi Jagan for his role in restoring free and fair elections, and we honour Forbes Burnham for securing political sovereignty for the nation, we ought to pull together and let the de Caires vision of a professional, ethical national voice take firm root.
Failing to do this is our biggest failing as a nation.
President Jagdeo a couple months ago called on Caribbean societies to report “good news”, and lambasted the region’s media as “negative”.
Similar views come out of the mouths of other politicians and leaders.
To view the mass media as a Public Relations mouth piece, and a “good news” organ is short-sighted, childish and incredibly uninformed.
The media’s role in the democratic triangle is to pinpoint flaws in the society’s body politic. The media functions akin to a doctor. The media search for symptoms of sickness in the society, and report this so that government takes action to solve the potential crisis.
A doctor exists to find where the body is breaking down, and takes appropriate action to repair the damage. The role of the media in a body politic is the same.
Just as a doctor must be trusted as ethical, sincere and professional, people must trust their mass media organs as ethical, sincere and professional.
The media does not have an agenda for or against any institution. The media simply looks to improve and develop the society into a healthy body politic.
Member of Parliament Khemraj Ramjattan shared with this writer an excellent article in the respected international Journal, Foreign Affairs, written by Oscar Arias, that easily applies to this country.
Titled ‘Culture Matters – the real obstacles to Latin American development’, the article lists four insightful reasons why the region remains bogged down.
Arias, one time President of Costa Rica and winner of the Nobel Peace in Prize in 1987, said widespread distrust among people stifle development.
For us to encourage healthy conversations that contribute solutions to our problems, we must learn to trust each other. And to develop trust among ourselves, we need to harbour, encourage and fuel a professional, ethical mass media climate – a platform for national conversations.
Our development foundation remains shaky because our leaders refuse to trust the media for it to play its rightful role in a democratic society.
“Nearly two centuries after the countries of Latin America gained their independence… not one of them is truly developed. Where have they gone wrong? Why have countries in other regions, once far behind, managed to achieve relatively quickly results that Latin American countries have aspired to for so long?” Arias asks.
He concludes that widespread distrust across the society is one of the reasons. We see that manifested in our country with our State distrusting people to the extent that it stifles the body politic developing a professional, ethical voice.
State media reform might be the single most vital solution we need for our nation to leap ahead.