A free media facilitates political debate

Dear Editor,

The recent allegation of executive high-handedness in the withdrawal of the popular television show ‘Keeping them honest’ from CNS 6 clearly shows that freedom of expression which is a pivotal part of our democracy is now under assault by the government that should be protecting such.

This anti-democratic trend started a few years ago with the withdrawal of advertisements from a major independent newspaper and the labelling of persons and entities that do not share the views of the government as the “new opposition.” Freedom of expression has often been described as the touchstone of all human rights. It is essential for the enjoyment of all other human rights including economic and social rights, and is a vital freedom for development in a functioning democracy.

It is with this concept in mind that Article 146 of Guyana’s Constitution seeks to safeguard this fundamental right of citizens to express their views and opinions. Guyana is also a signatory to the Universal  Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 19 states that “Every-one has a right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

It is clear by its recent actions, the Jagdeo administration has violated the well-established constitutional and international principles mentioned above. The current administration loves to brag of returning this country to democracy after twenty-eight years of PNC rule, but its democratic standards fall short of the benchmark set by western societies. The constant attack that private media houses endure from the government of the day clearly shows its level of intolerance to opposing ideas and views, even though the administration has at its disposal no less than five media outlets to channel its views.

The protection afforded by human rights conventions to all media is justified because of their role in making people’s freedom of expression meaningful and because of their contribution to democratic life. Media freedom is inseparable from the enjoyment of freedom of expression in society. The media has a watchdog role on the exercise of power in society and a free media facilitates political debate. In the landmark case of Castells v Spain (1992)14 EHRR 445, the European Court expressed the view that freedom of the press affords the public one of the best means of discovering and forming an opinion of the ideas and attitudes of political leaders. It gives politicians the opportunity to reflect and comment on the views of the public, and it allows everyone to participate in the free political debate which is the core of a democratic society.

The actions of the state in the last few years towards the private media, clearly show that the administration is bent on having a monopoly on the flow of information in this country, and by such actions would have lost the moral authority to criticize the previous administration about its democratic practices. In order to regain credibility internationally, the administration would need to adopt an approach of tolerance and respect in keeping with internationally accepted standards governing freedom of expression.

Yours faithfully
Michael Baird Jr

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