Media freedom……PPP style

It’s hard to believe that the People’s Progressive Party spent so many of its years in the political wilderness lamenting the absence of free and fair elections in Guyana and blaming the PNC  not only on stuffed ballot boxes but on an absence of media freedom.

First Hoyte, then the PPP, after 1992, sought to roll back some of the worst excesses of suppression of media freedom like the imposition of controls over access to newsprint; and the state-run Chronicle is no longer the only newspaper game in town and there are now quite a few privately-run television stations dotting the local media landscape. No one has ever denied the PPP their due in this regard.

When it comes to really freeing up the media, however,  the PPP has drawn its own line in the sand, implementing a thus-far-and-no-further policy that has sent clear signals that there are strict limits to the freedoms that it is about to allow. These are different days and the PPP appears not to understand that.

The presidential suspension of CNS Channel Six was as stupid as it was shameless……and for a while the Jagdeo administration appeared to believe that they would get away with it. They even made Dr. Luncheon say that the decision was “irreversible.” One might have thought that President Jagdeo would understand that there are limits to what he would be allowed to get away with.

So there was a transgression on the part of Channel Six but the point about the suspension has everything to do with its timing. You cannot impose a near complete block on opposition access to the state media in this elections season then turn around and shut down CNS Channel Six at this time, Mr. Jagdeo! That’s crass and undemocratic!

Thank God you blinked, Sir! You blinked because in those few days between your presidential pronouncement and the PPP rally in Kitty the people drew a line in the sand. They made you know that you were not about to get away with it.

Quite why you troubled yourself to make such a flawed decision in the first place is hard to understand, Mr. President. Did you not stop to think that the suspension would be seen not as punishing CNS Channel Six but as deliberately attempting to further compromise the electoral chances of the PPP’s political opponents? Unfortunately, Mr. President, it appears that you decided to risk a political confrontation, backing away only when it became clear that the opposition political parties were calling your bluff. That’s bad form, Mr. President.

In its eighteen years in office the PPP has racked up its own list of dubious actions ranging from its endless sand – dancing on the matter of granting radio licences to private applicants to imposing temporary bans on the allocation of state ads to the private media. Between the two extremes the government has more or less choked off access to the state media to all else but official opinion. NCN –radio and television – are zealously guarded by the state’s media minders (remember the Merundoi episode?) while the state-run newspaper has been reduced to being a poster board for the political administration. This is the same PPP that had pummeled and pilloried Mr. Burnham’s regime for keeping the media “under manners.”

But the PPP doesn’t appear in the least bothered over its double-standard. After all, isn’t putting the squeeze on media freedom as the price for being in power becoming par for the course in our country?


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