Opposition urged to boycott polls until equal media access granted

“We call on the PNC, AFC, GAP, WPA, TUF and new political alliance APNU to discharge their responsibility to this nation by ensuring that before we enter into another election farce that the playing field is levelled for all contenders,” the GTUC said in a statement in wake of the recent suspension of the broadcast licence of CNS TV 6.

“We expect that the political opposition without exception will participate in national and regional elections only after a minimum set of requirements would have been met,” it added, while saying that the parties’ participation “in a process that violate the people’s fundamental right” would be interpreted as selling out the citizens for personal benefit. To this end, the trade union umbrella body identified the re-opening of CNS Channel 6 before the announcement for the date of the elections and open and equal access to the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) by all political parties participating in the process as areas for immediate action.

The call for a boycott was echoed last evening at a rally on the CNS Channel 6 suspension at Stabroek Market, where GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis reiterated the body’s position.

Opposition coalition APNU spokesman Dr Rupert Roopnaraine later said that the calls would be taken into consideration.  “I’ve heard the calls of the TUC here tonight on this platform. I’ve heard the calls coming from civil society urging us to consider as political parties whether we are prepared to enter into an election that will, in the present conditions, be a farce. I want to tell them, we have heard them and we will take their views into due consideration when we sit and make the decision as to what it is we will do,” Roopnaraine said.

CNS Channel 6 has been off air since Monday evening after President Bharrat Jagdeo ordered a four-month suspension of its licence, based on a complaint about a commentary that was broadcast in May. Jagdeo’s decision was based on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB), which had proposed an eight month suspensions. With polls due before year end, the timing of the decision has raised questions, and opposition parties and some civil society groups have dubbed the move an attack on freedom of expression.

According to the GTUC, the suspension of CNS at elections time is a calculated and deliberate act by the incumbent to deny the citizens of this country an opportunity to access the views of all contending parties. It accused the PPP/C administration of consistently using the state media and other machinations to give itself as an unfair advantage over the other contesting parties in national and regional elections. And while identifying CNS Channel 6 as “a major campaign channel for all opposition parties,” including station owner CN Sharma’s JFAP, GTUC said the suspension is designed to create an information imbalance in society and cripple the campaigns of the opposition.

“It is discriminatory, anti-democratic, and along with the government monopoly and blackout of opposition views on the state media is a clear and outright effort not to hold elections that are free, fair and credible,” it declared.
“This act is a denial of the right of citizens to access information pertaining to their wellbeing and the future of Guyana and to enable them in making the best possible choice of which party or candidate will form the government,” it added, while saying that the people should not accept the denial of a fundamental element of free, fair and credible elections. “To do so is to accept the denial of your right to be heard and your right to information that is empowering and liberating,” it further noted.

The GTUC argued that it is the duty of the state to ensure the basic tenets for free, fair and credible elections, while it is the responsibility of the opposition political parties to hold the government accountable for ensuring that the people’s rights are safeguarded. In this context, it said it would be profane to participate in the electoral process fully conscious that the citizens’ right to be heard and to know are transgressed and that the state authority and resources are being misused by the incumbent.  “…All political parties are held accountable should they participate in an elections that fall far short of meeting minimum requirements,” it added, while reiterating its call for the opposition parties not to participate in elections without the minimum standards for free expression, equal access to state media in place.

The GTUC also said it will not tolerate the continued violation of the rights of citizens and it called on the people to join to ensure their rights are respected. It noted that the state-run NCN radio and television and the Guyana Chronicle newspaper are owned by the people whose taxes fund them and all must be given access. Additionally, it urged the international community and those who help to finance the polls against engagement with the Guyana government for fear of accepting standards that are not universal and which they would not tolerate in their own countries or fund.

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