There is need for a truly autonomous state media

Dear Editor,

Some time this week, it was brought to the attention of the local Facebook community that management of the National Communi-cations Network (NCN) had banned the music of Jamaican dancehall artiste, Vybz Kartel.
The furore that quickly followed touched upon two main themes: Vybz Kartel’s disrespect towards Guyanese in not showing up for two shows as legitimizing the ban; and the vulgar content of Kartel’s music as justification for the ban.

The latter view seems to have been endorsed by NCN General Manager, Martin Goolsarran when he ‘clarified’ that the ban wasn’t meant to be applicable to all of Kartel’s music, simply the songs containing lewd lyrics; and the artist was not specifically targeted, the ban being issued as part of a general policy prohibiting the airing of music with explicit or otherwise

questionable lyrics, all in the name of the public good.
One crucial fact should be made clear – a notice with an NCN logo was posted on the wall at NCN, and read in its entirety and with the specific emphases reproduced here, “Production Department – EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY – Music of VYBZ KARTEL MUST NOT BE PLAYED ON AIR – All producers and presenters, please note.”

The notice did not specify or otherwise indicate that it referred to Kartel’s songs containing lewd or explicit lyrics – it banned in pretty clear language the “Music of VYBZ KARTEL”, full caps and all.

There has been no other documentation of any NCN ‘policy’ as claimed by Mr Goolsarran in support of his contextualization of what occurred.  For us to invest even an iota of credibility in Mr Goolsarran’s statement that this was as a result of a pre-existing policy, NCN would have to produce posters individually banning the music of Rihanna, Busy Signal, Mavado, 50 Cent, Jay

Z, Bugle, Beyonce, Sean Paul and dozens of others musicians from the Caribbean and further afield from playing.
The argument has been made that the ban was not the Government of Guyana banning the music of Kartel, but simply NCN’s.  The last I checked, the National Communications Network came under the ultimate responsibility of the Minister of Information, a portfolio held by the President himself; as far as I know, no state media entity has autonomous or even semi-autonomous status under the present administration.

And were the above simply dismissible as speculative, the fact is that – by virtue of NCN management attending, participating in, and deriving policy as well as day to management direction from, the weekly Media Managers Meeting convened by the Office of the Presi-dent – NCN cannot be construed to be anything but under the direction of government. The ban has to be seen as a government action as executed by an officer within an administrative/editorial management hierarchy that goes all the way up to the President himself.

The only way that the ban could not be considered as originating from the Government of Guyana is if it came from outside of the formal management structure of NCN, something which in of itself sets a dangerous precedent if true. If someone, some ghost (Mavado perhaps), outside of NCN’s administration can issue a management directive that is only questioned after being highlighted publicly, then what presents that person from issuing payment orders, sending reporters on assignments, vetting and rejecting employment applications, or otherwise managing the operations of the entity by edict?

The National Communications Network is funded by taxpayers to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually. We need to know the precise origin of the ban, who typed up, printed and posted the notice and under whose direction, and what documentation outside of the notice exists as to the rationale behind it.  If it wasn’t Martin Goolsarran (as it is unlikely to

be since he would then appear to be in disagreement with himself over this) then where did it come from?  With regard to accountability, this should be something that can be easily cleared up within an administration that is open and answerable to the people.

As of now, all the ban – as well as its post hoc qualification – shows is that the management of the state media is not premised on objective decision-making and policy formulation mechanisms but on the whims and fancies of whatever little Caesars occupy the managerial throne.

This underscores what has long been recognized as the need for the establishment of a truly autonomous state media – based on the model of the BBC – one that is premised on a nonpartisan, autonomous editorial and administrative policy; a clearly defined hierarchy in which areas of responsibility and hence accountability are spelt out; and a professionalism worthy of the incredible amount of money being poured into it at the expense of taxpayers of Guyana.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson
Advisor on Cultural Policy
Alliance For Change

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