The Bharrat Jagdeo administration last night denied exerting pressure on CNS Channel 6 boss CN Sharma to pull any of his programming, including the ‘Keeping Them Honest’ talk show.
The administration’s denial came even as the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) condemned the “manoeuvrings” that led to the removal of the Christopher Ram-Raymon Gaskin talk show from the airwaves as a call-back to the Forbes Burnham era.
Sharma, in correspondence to Ram on Saturday, indicated that the show was being discontinued, following a conversation with “the relevant authorities.” He subsequently told this newspaper that he was being “harassed,” while adding that the “authorities” wanted to dictate who could be on the air.
In a statement issued last night, the Office of the President (OP) rejected the assertion that Sharma had been and is being harassed and pressured by government officials to stop airing specific programmes on CNS Channel 6, including the talk show.
“The Office of the President reiterates that at no time did any government official approach CNS Channel 6 Sharma on removing any of the weekly broadcasted `Keeping them Honest’ from his channel,” it said.
OP further noted that Sharma has been again cited by the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) and that “his breaches of provisions of broadcast legislation have been drawn to the attention of the Minister of Information, President Bharrat Jagdeo for subsequent action.” Sharma is awaiting a ruling by Jagdeo on whether the station’s licence would be suspended or revoked, following a controversial commentary by Anthony Vieira on Bishop Juan Edghill.
“It is tempting to believe that CNS Channel 6 Sharma made the decision not to air the programme `Keeping them Honest’ any longer in an attempt to curry-favour with the authorities who are currently examining his many infringements of the law,” OP said, while adding that “His concurrent public claims of pressure and harassment would then represent an ingenious effort to rationalise and defend his action.”
Meanwhile, the GHRA said the threat of implementing sanctions against Sharma can be converted into pressure on CNS Channel 6 to eliminate dissenting voices.
“Whether or not speculation of that nature has a basis in fact is less important than the perception and the chilling effect that it has on all private media-owners,” it noted in a statement.
According to the GHRA, the situation is the “most recent incident of suppression of dissent” and it is directly the result of the administration’s “unacceptable control” over the ACB. The method of appointment of members of that Committee and the controlling powers vested in the Minister of Information rob that body of any claim to independence, the GHRA contended.
The human rights group also highlighted what it described as a “squalid abuse of power” that has resulted from the current obsolete law covering broadcasting. “Older Guyanese will readily recognise this genre of governance from the Burnham era, which culminated, in his case, in producing an entire constitution to confer a façade of legality on the ample powers he had accumulated in his person,” it said.
It added that new legislation that has since been tabled has signalled the “revival of Burnham-era constitutionalism.”
It argued that enough of the excessive powers of the Burnham constitution remain so as to render presidential politics in Guyana substantially undemocratic. “Fears of this nature are further encouraged by measures such as the proposed Access to Information Bill and the draft Broadcasting Bill,” it said, while arguing that everything in both the spirit and the letter of the bills suggests “they are motivated fundamentally by the impulse to control rather than to liberalise and to protect expression of views and dissemination of information.”
The fundamental justification of licensing of broadcast media is the need to ensure that citizens are exposed to a variety of opinions and diversity of views rather than a single monopolistic view, it said. “Any impartial observer of Guyana’s media arrangements would have to conclude that licensing is inspired by the exact opposite intention. Much needs to change,” the GHRA declared.