President Bharrat Jagdeo last evening announced that he will be temporarily lifting his four month suspension of CNS Channel 6 until December 1 saying that he does not want the opposition parties to have any excuse for the “resounding defeat” that awaits them at the November 28 polls.
The announcement came as Jagdeo addressed a rally in Alexander Street, Kitty as the PPP/C officially ramped up its campaign in the capital city. The President said that his decision comes at time when some parties are talking about boycotting the elections. He said that he did not want to provide an opportunity for these parties to divide the people of Guyana. Jagdeo’s retraction of the ban comes in the face of severe criticism from local and international bodies.
Channel 6 owner CN Sharma, when contacted last evening, said he is waiting on an official letter from the Office of the President indicating the new decision, before pronouncing on the issue.
Explaining the circumstances of the initial ban, Jagdeo said Sharma and his wife Savitree came crying to his office like babies. He said that he only instituted a ban that had been proposed by the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) based on a commentary that Sharma aired which sought to bring discord between Hindus and Christians, and between the Catholics and Pentecostals, two denominations in the Christian faith. He said that “the vulture media” tried to make it into a personal issue relating to elections as if the government was afraid of Sharma’s station.
Jagdeo dismissed this saying that Sharma has contested elections before and only got 200 votes. “We are not afraid of Sharma, this powerful PPP, can never be afraid of Sharma,” he said to a cheering crowd. The President said that the other political parties were making it a big issue so as to avoid a heavy defeat at the polls. “The others are seeing a chance to back away from the elections,” he said, “they’re seeing the writing on the wall that there is going to be another overwhelming PPP/C victory, so they’re talking about [a] boycott,” Jagdeo said; “and they’re saying that the results might be tainted; it wouldn’t be a fair election.”
“ Some time ago, I said I wanted to remove any excuse that these people have for another resounding defeat because they would be defeated massively; all of them combined by this PPP/C government,” Jagdeo added.
“So what I’ve decided to do is… I would allow Sharma to broadcast for the next two months and start the suspension on December 1 so that they don’t have any excuse for another defeat. I want to take away any excuse that they would have to create violence or enmity…we want them to participate so we can thrash their a**es,” he said. The announcement by Jagdeo was greeted by a huge uproar from the large crowd in attendance.
Jagdeo said that the opposition parties AFC and APNU and the other groups that are supporting them were defending hate speech regarding religion. “So I want to say to the Hindus and the Pentecostals and the Catholics and all religious people tonight, see what they believe, they would put political expediency above religious unity. You will never find the PPP doing that because we believe in bringing people together…” Jagdeo said.
Later PPP/C presidential candidate Donald Ramotar, in his address, congratulated Jagdeo for his magnanimous gesture towards Sharma, in spite of the fact that laws had been broken. He made this point, while underscoring that freedom of the press is important and something that his government will support.
When Stabroek News spoke with Sharma outside of State House last evening where he was participating in a vigil, he was reluctant to speak in the absence of a formal indication of the President’s position. “…Let me get the document in my hand, [saying] Mr Sharma you are now relieved from that…. When we get that letter then we have all these people who gave moral support to us almost nearly a week, they can be able to have a voice too, not only Sharma, “ he said.
Also at the vigil, was PNCR Leader Robert Corbin who said that the decision by the President was appropriate. “It is appropriate that the ban be lifted on CN Sharma, Channel 6 so that the people who are interested in airing their views during this election time are able to do so,” Corbin said, while indicating his desire to see the President communicate his decision in writing. “He who has the power to suspend, I suspect has also the power to waive,“ Corbin said.
He insisted that the entities who protested Sharma’s ban will continue to do so because they feel the ban was unjust in the first place. “It does not mean that we are giving up the battle to challenge the suspension of Sharma period, because we believe it was wrong in the first place to suspend the station when in fact there are legal proceedings before the court and therefore it kind of prejudices the actions that are taking place in the court,” he said. He said he still challenges the authority of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting to make any recommendation to suspend Sharma, since it was not duly constituted under the Postal and Telegraph Act. According to him, the President has failed to take into consideration his wish to change the nominee. He expressed optimism that the results of the elections would, in fact, make the issue irrelevant since there will be a new government in office.
Efforts to get a reaction from Alliance for Change officials last evening were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, presidential advisor on governance Gail Teixeira criticized those who protested Sharma’s ban as a big human rights issue saying that these organizations and people were not making such a big fuss when Sharma had in the past faced charges related to the sexual abuse of children.
Asked to respond to this last evening, Red Thread’s Karen DeSouza said that her organization had made its position on the Sharma case quite clearly. “Ms Teixeira is on the hustings and Ms Teixeira will say whatever she thinks will make some kind of impact. I think the position of Red Thread is very clear: we recognize that a lot of people don’t have the same passion that we have about the abuse of women and children, we recognize that, but that does not mean that we (Red Thread) should be less passionate about the abuses that we stand up against,” she told this newspaper.
Meanwhile, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), which initiated the call for the opposition parties to boycott the upcoming elections in the absence of a minimum standards being agreed, said that the decision by the President is testimony to what a peopled united and unrelenting can achieve. The union said that the fight is not over and that the next move is to have the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) open its airways to allow all parties equal access.
The union said, in a release, that it is still calling on “the opposition to continue considering their participation in this election in the absence of the minimum standards being met.”