In a normal constitutional democracy the courts will adjudicate and pronounce on whether a particular TV broadcast violated the bye-laws laid down by a constitutional body.
From my reading of the Guyana online independent press the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting has recommended suspension of the CNS TV’s broadcast licence for eight months based on a singular broadcast; a broadcast that ACB deemed offensive on the belief that it would cause religious strife. President Jagdeo, using the ACB’s recommendation as a sort of excuse decreed the suspension, and as if to demonstrate compassion he cut the ACB’s recommendation by half. Never mind that the particular broadcast caused no such “religious strife”. (Editor’s note: President Jagdeo has since postponed the suspension to December 1st.)
Who is the final arbiter on whether an Independent press or TV licence will be suspended or shut down? In the Burnham era, it was Burnham; in the Jagdeo era it is Jagdeo. So what has changed? Can Guyana be considered a constitutional democracy?
The ACB is not a constitutionally-vested body. Read Opposition Leader’s Corbin’s letter published in the Sunday Stabroek (Oct. 9th) for a full explanation as proof that the ACB is nothing but a poodle of president Jagdeo. Assuming a constitutionally-vested body had ordered the suspension, such decisions would have been adjudicated by the courts.
Should a president of a constitutionally-based republic have the absolute power to order the suspension of a TV Station’s broadcast licence and thereby deprive the Opposition parties of TV access, when the president’s own party and his anointed candidate is a contestant in the upcoming elections? This question lies at the heart of the issue. It is patently unfair and patently unconstitutional. And, if the current laws support Jagdeo’s decree, then this country lacks a proper democratic constitution as well as democratic institutions, and is not guided and governed by universal constitutional practices.
The Guyanese public which is today struggling for decency and genuine democracy should not feel daunted and discouraged by these ancient and dictatorial laws that still pass for a constitution. They should feel inspired by the Arab Spring and now the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Change comes not from what a moribund parliament does, but from the power that flows from vibrant street protests.
Allow me one brief footnote: In 2006 and 2007, an intense struggle was waged by the Stabroek News against Jagdeo’s attempt to muzzle the Independent press. (‘Cutting off ads from SN by Jagdeo, like the denial of free newsprint to Mirror newspaper by Burnham in the ‘70s constituted a denial of the free press’ rights’, Justice Vieira).
My convictions about the rights of the free media and its importance for the development of a constitutionally-based democracy constrained me to write and publish several letters in support of the struggle of SN, and also to petition my U.S. Congressman Gregory Meeks to issue a statement urging president Jagdeo to back off from his vendetta against the SN. Meeks took no action. Two years later I ran into Congressman Meeks handing out Congressional Awards at a function organized by Attorney-at-Law Albert Baldeo. Asked to explain his reasons, Meeks said: “Oh, while you were urging me to take a stand on behalf of Stabroek News, others in your community were telling me President Jagdeo did nothing wrong”.
Who were these “others” also lobbying Meeks? Two years later mainstream press in New York began reporting about the cozy relationship between businessman Ed Ahmad and Meeks; and that this relationship involved the receipt of a cash gift by Meeks, which he has since converted to a loan. Ever since these revelations became public, I have had no doubt about who these “others” were, and no doubt about the role Ahmad played in lobbying U.S. Congressmen on behalf of the Jagdeo Government.
It is quite understandable that Ahmad may have had no interest or convictions about the rights of the Free Press in Guyana, only in using his money to curry favours with powerful politicians to advance his personal business interests. Let it be known that the power that flows from the streets can rival all the power of the nexus between Wall Street and the politicians, as well as the nexus between Ahmad and Jagdeo.
Keep the street protests alive!