PPP opposed SN ads boycott but was ignored by gov’t – Ramkarran

PPP executive Ralph Ramkarran yesterday said that the PPP had opposed the cut-off of state advertisements to Stabroek News in 2006 but was ignored by the government of former President Bharrat Jagdeo.

Ramkarran’s statement in a letter in today’s Stabroek News is the first time that an executive of the party has publicly discussed the PPP’s position on the matter.

His letter was in response to the editorial in yesterday’s edition of Stabroek News which said that the matter of the Jagdeo administration’s axing of ads to SN in 2006 “was a trifling matter for all in the PPP and its government except for the late, former President, Mrs Janet Jagan who called clearly for an end to the advertising boycott to no avail.”

Ramkarran’s letter said this was not the case.

Ralph Ramkarran

“The PPP did not consider the withdrawal of the advertisements to be a trifling matter. It was extensively discussed both at the Executive Committee and later, the Central Committee, of the PPP which called on the government to restore the advertisements to the Stabroek News. The government ignored the decision and since the PPP did not practice `party paramountcy’ there was no way of enforcing it. It is not known by me whether those members of the Central Committee of the PPP who were senior members of the Cabinet advocated in that forum the decision of the PPP leadership to which there was no dissentient voice, or whether they remained silent.

“After some time, when it was clear that the decision was being ignored by the government, an attempt was made to raise the refusal of the government to restore the advertisements for discussion. In the discussions I proposed to say the following in an article which I wanted to publish:

“The question arises as to whether on an issue of this importance the PPP should continue to remain silent. I believe it is incumbent on the leadership of the PPP to make its position known. This is long overdue especially since this festering matter is tarnishing the PPP’s ‘long and honourable history.’ The public needs to know whether the PPP still supports the position it argued in the 1970s in the New Guyana Case, mentioned above, that economic considerations could not be an excuse to hinder freedom of expression, whether contrived or consequential. I supported the PPP’s position then and continue to support it today. I therefore stand firmly with those who feel that the decision to give greater value to the advertising dollar jeopardizes freedom of expression, a priceless human right.”

“A conclusion to the discussion was sidetracked by extraneous matters and the article was not published,” Ramkarran added in his letter.

After the cut-off of ads by the Jagdeo administration occurred, Stabroek News had been critical of the PPP for not taking a stand on the matter considering that the same types of pressure had been utilized by the PNC administration against its semi-official organ, the Mirror newspaper. The PPP however made no public statement on the matter and it is clear from Ramkarran’s letter that its views on the matter were communicated privately to the government.

Yesterday’s editorial also made the point that President Ramotar who was General Secretary of the PPP at the time of the ads boycott had never made a public statement on the matter.
The statement by Ramkarran that the government had disregarded the PPP’s position on the ads matter strengthens the widely-held view that following his re-election in 2006, former President Jagdeo had ignored the party on key issues and had not felt constrained by any action that Freedom House could take. He had signalled this when he characterized Mrs Jagan’s views on the SN ads as those of a private citizen.

It is widely believed that Jagdeo himself instructed the ads cut-off because of SN’s criticisms of his government and because he wanted to help pave the way for the advent of the government-friendly Guyana Times. The Jagdeo administration had argued that the decision was a purely business one by the Govern-ment Information Agency because it wanted more value for its advertising money. Ads were then placed solely with the Guyana Chronicle and the Kaieteur News. In 2008, state ads were restored to Stabroek News without explanation but it later became clear that this had been done to enable ads to be placed in the Guyana Times. One year after its launching the Guyana Times began to receive state ads and its volume began to rival that of the other private newspapers.

State ads were eventually pulled from all private media in the second half of 2010 after the government said it would use an e-procurement site and the state newspaper, the Guyana Chronicle.

Below is the column that Ramkarran had hoped to have published in the Mirror

STABROEK NEWS

The Peoples’ Progressive Party (PPP) has had a long and honourable history. It started its life by championing national unity, independence and socialism. The united PPP, formed in 1950, posed a formidable challenge to the interests of the ruling class in Guyana. Its first government of 1953 was removed after 133 days and its leaders harassed, restricted and imprisoned. The united movement did not survive this trauma but the progressive part of the divided PPP continued on its charted course and never lost sight of its cherished goal – the independence of Guyana. Dr. Jagan welcomed the fixing of a date for independence and celebrated it on May 26, 1966 at the National Park even though a well designed and orchestrated conspiracy, now fully exposed, had deprived him of enjoying the occasion as head of government.

Before the ink was dry on the independence declaration, the rigging of elections commenced. Another era of authoritarianism had begun, adding different but equally extreme forms of oppression to those which had only just been overthrown. Guyana, poor and divided, entered into a new cycle of struggle lasting for a quarter of a century. It was accompanied by much suffering among those who supported the PPP as well as those who did not, but who believed in liberty and did something about it. Eventually, Guyana regained its freedom.

Among the major challenges during this era was the maintenance of freedom of expression which was and is one of the most fundamental of all human rights. All of the newspapers which were critical of the administration were subjected to various forms of harassment.

The Mirror was singled out for special treatment for obvious reasons. It represented the views of the major opposition party, the PPP, and it had a very large circulation reaching all parts of Guyana. Some of Guyana’s best journalists were associated with the Mirror. At its height, edited by Mrs Janet Jagan, it was a flourishing newspaper, the best in Guyana, and a leader in the fight for freedom.
The first attack consisted of a sustained period of violent assaults on Mirror vendors in the city. Eventually, Mirror became unavailable at the street corners.

The second assault was by the courts, giving an award of twenty-five thousand dollars for libel against Burnham. At that time this was a huge sum, the highest ever awarded in Guyana. It was so large that the Mirror had to sell some of its property to pay the judgment which was upheld on appeal. Libel actions thereafter became the preferred weapon against the Mirror and later the Catholic Standard.

The third was the deprivation of the Mirror of newsprint. The government accomplished this by promulgating an order that a licence must be obtained by anyone wishing to import newsprint on the ground that scarce foreign exchange must be carefully managed and conserved. The Mirror’s applications for licences were refused, even to import newsprint given as gifts, involving no expenditure of foreign exchange.

The celebrated case of New Guyana Co Ltd v Hope and Others will forever remain a symbol not only of the struggle for freedom of expression in Guyana but for the role of the judiciary in these matters. The court of first instance, presided over by a fearless and distinguished judge of acknowledged integrity, the late Frank Vieira, ruled that the requirement for a licence was unconstitutional and that the Mirror had suffered discrimination in the refusal to grant licences. The Court of Appeal reversed the decision and upheld the constitutionality of the requirement for the licence and ruled that no discrimination had taken place. Freedom of expression never recovered from this genuflection to tyranny by the highest court in our land. Despite these setbacks the Mirror remained a vital and vibrant weapon in the struggle against the dictatorship albeit with a substantially reduced size.

In this monumental struggle, the people of Guyana, the Mirror and all those who were resisting, were offered valuable solidarity by Caribbean journalists, their organizations and newspapers even as Caribbean governments failed us. The anti-dictatorial struggle could hardly have succeeded without broad Caribbean and international support.

The Jamaica Gleaner, in a scathing editorial in connection with the government’s withdrawal of advertisements from the Stabroek News, seeks to remind the PPP of the history outlined above. The PPP and the people of Guyana have not forgotten and cannot be allowed to forget our recent, turbulent past. But the PPP is not a paramount party and does not speak for the government. The decision in relation to the withdrawal of the advertisements was made by the government and the government alone. As the General Secretary, Donald Ramotar, has pointed out, the issue was never brought to the attention of the party by the government. We read about it in the press like everyone else. It is therefore the government alone, not the PPP, which is answerable for the decision and bears responsibility for its consequences.

The question arises as to whether on an issue of this importance the PPP should continue to remain silent. I believe it is incumbent on the leadership of the PPP to make its position known. This is long overdue especially since this festering matter is tarnishing the PPP’s ‘long and honourable history.’ The public needs to know whether the PPP still supports the position it argued in the 1970s in the New Guyana Case, mentioned above, that economic considerations could not be an excuse to hinder freedom of expression, whether contrived or consequential. I supported the PPP’s position then and continue to support it today. I therefore stand firmly with those who feel that the decision to give greater value to the advertising dollar jeopardizes freedom of expression, a priceless human right.

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