There is no doubt that the commentary which was presented by Mr Anthony Vieira on CNS Channel Six on May 4 this year and which has now been listed as the reason for the suspension of the licence of CNS Channel Six for four months contained scandalous allegations which no responsible broadcaster should permit without ensuring that there was some basis or evidence to sustain it. In this respect, the proprietor of the station, Mr CN Sharma put himself in instant jeopardy considering the hostile and vindictive governance framework that Guyanese have to survive in.
It is also to the discredit of the station that its Programme Manager, Mrs Savitree Sharma tried to excuse the offence by saying that the television operator had played the wrong DVD. That explanation immediately calls into question the professionalism of the station at various levels. However, it could very well have been the case because this is the Guyana of today.
Conceding those two points does not however justify the oppressive penalty applied by President Jagdeo, the substantive Minister of Information against the station. Moreover, the framework within which President Jagdeo has assigned the penalty is without credibility and administered by people in whom the general public has no trust. The Advisory Committee on Broadcasting which President Jagdeo agreed with the late former President Hoyte as an interim measure to administer the broadcast spectrum has been allowed to continue for a decade because of the government’s unwillingness to bring sweeping, enlightened broadcast legislation. The bill recently taken to Parliament in the 19th year of successive PPP/C governance and debated is deeply flawed and unacceptable. Had a broadcast authority been in place and free from ministerial interference the complaint against Mr Sharma would have had a better chance of being fairly handled.
Yet there was still no imperative for the President to act so punitively on the recommendation of the ACB.
Indeed, the person who was offended by the Vieira broadcast, Bishop Juan Edghill has already sought recourse to the courts which is an adequate forum for pronouncement on matters of libel. So there was no need for a parallel course of action except that it fit the ulterior objectives of President Jagdeo and his supporters.
It is clear to all, even the dullest among us, that the real intent of this assault on the freedom of Mr Sharma to broadcast was to deny him the ability to operate during the election period and to prevent him giving airtime to opposition parties. It is a sign that President Jagdeo and the PPP/C feel a certain vulnerability from the years of scandals that have piled up and which will haunt them in a few months at the polls. Surely if a sense of fair play and justice had pervaded the realms of the ACB and the Office of the President a May 4, 2011 transgression by CNS Channel Six would have been diligently disposed of long before Friday, September 30th. Mr Sharma’s four-month penalty could have just ended. Indeed, at the end of July the President had said that a decision would be made within a week. Yet inexplicably he sat on this decision for a further two months until dropping the hammer on Friday. It is unfortunate that presidential immunity would prevent the President from being examined on this matter.
Unconscionably, President Jagdeo gave no thought to the 30 people who will now be without jobs for four months in these hard guava times, some of them for the second time since 2008 when the President had again suspended Mr Sharma’s licence. Had he considered this he might even have thought it appropriate to level a fine against the station for its transgressions instead of shutting it down. That, however, did not fit in with the grand design.
Neither did President Jagdeo consider the needs of the viewers of this station who by all accounts are a substantial number and gain great satisfaction from it even if not taking many of its antics seriously. That might have been a calculated risk by the President as many of Mr Sharma’s viewers are likely from PPP strongholds.
Given the unjustifiable action taken, Mr Sharma should seek every available legal recourse to thwart the machinations of this government. But he mustn’t be in this alone. The injudiciousness of President Jagdeo’s action requires all sections of society which subscribe to fairness and justice to raise their voices against the President’s action and to reply to it in whatever way they can; particularly those who have over the years been comforted and quieted by the blandishments of this government.
The President’s manoeuvre is also about the absurdity of governance in this country today: the protection of those who lap up the soup of the PPP/C and the targeting of those who are independent-minded. While this government pretends to be oblivious to the serious stain of the allegations that some of its members cooperated with a death squad and cosseted the drug lord Mr Roger Khan it is attempting to swat Mr Sharma out of business. Yet its minions get off with illegally exporting dolphins, smuggling fuel and a range of other transgressions.
The President’s decision will be remembered as grotesque and it should not be allowed to stand. In the context of the media it can only be described as another unvarnished assault on press freedom.