Then US Ambassador to Guyana, David Robinson cabled Washington on the government’s termination of state advertising in Stabroek News in 2007 saying it was at best a public relations fiasco and at worst a misguided attack on press freedom.
In the cable dated January 26, 2007 and recently unloaded by WikiLeaks, Robinson said: “At best, the GOG’s withdrawal of advertising from Stabroek News represents a ham-fisted public relations fiasco. At worst, it constitutes a misguided attack on press freedom from a government with a history (reftel) of monopolizing media resources”.
Stabroek News had argued that the ads cut-off was a gross attack on press freedom and contravened the press freedom Declaration of Chapultepec which Guyana had signed. The ads ban lasted for 17 months and was lifted to pave the way for ads to given to the Guyana Times. In July of last year, the ads were pulled again from all the newspapers except the state-owned Chronicle. The government’s explanation was that the ads would now be carried on its e-procurement website.
The Robinson cable is published beneath.
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT PULLS ADS FROM INDEPENDENT DAILY
REF: GEORGETOWN 915
► 1. (SBU) Summary: Citing the paper’s supposedly falling circulation figures, GOG recently stopped placing state advertisements in the independent Stabroek News. During the 2006 election campaign, President Jagdeo and ruling party officials repeatedly accused Stabroek News of criticizing the government and favoring the opposition Alliance for Change (AFC).Although GOG continues to maintain that the ad withdrawal was a purely commercial decision, the move has drawn sharp criticism both locally and abroad. End Summary.
► 2. (U) In a January 15 press release, Stabroek News reported that the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, had ordered the Government Information Agency (GINA) to stop booking new advertising with the paper. According to Editor-in-Chief David deCaires, GINA had already begun reducing the number of bookings starting in
November 2006. DeCaires called GINA’s decision “an apparent reversal of its policy of respect for freedom of expression” and “an attack on the free press.”
► 3. (SBU) GINA’s immediate counter-press-release defended the decision to withdraw government advertising from Stabroek News, arguing that Kaieteur News is now the largest private newspaper in Guyana, and emphasizing the government’s need to maximize its advertising dollar. (Note: Kaieteur News does not audit its circulation figures. End Note.) GINA said that the government now intends to advertise in only one private paper alongside its advertising in the government-owned Guyana Chronicle, although the government also continues to advertise in the People’s Progressive Party/CIVIC (PPP/C)-owned Mirror. In a subsequent press release, GINA denied Gopaul’s involvement in the ad withdrawal. Speaking with the press, President Jagdeo insisted that the policy change was “purely a business decision” and was not handled at the presidential level. He also promised that Gopaul would bring legal action against “some of these people who have tainted him.”
► 4. (SBU) Jagdeo, Prime Minister Sam Hinds, and PPP/C General Secretary Donald Ramotar repeatedly and publicly criticized SIPDIS Stabroek News during the 2006 election campaign, accusing the paper of anti-government bias. Jagdeo accused deCaires of creating the opposition Alliance for Change (AFC) as a front party to get into government “through the back door without facing the polls.”
► 5. (U) GINA’s ad withdrawal has been condemned by the AFC, the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), the Guyana Press Association (GPA), the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), and the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association. Regionally and internationally, Reporters without Borders, the International Press Institute, and the Association of Caribbean Media have criticized the government’s action.
► 6. (SBU) Comment: At best, the GOG’s withdrawal of advertising from Stabroek News represents a ham-fisted public relations fiasco. At worst, it constitutes a misguided attack on press freedom from a government with a history (reftel) of monopolizing media resources. End Comment.