‘SN was trying to distract from the real point’

Dear Editor,

Allow me the opportunity to say thanks for publishing my letter in your April 28, 2013, edition. The said letter was sent on Monday, April 22 and resent on April 26. Given the nature of its content, the less than slothful publishing was unexpected. It could have been that either you were not in receipt of it when it was first sent, or you received it but delayed its publishing.

Maybe conscience was jarred when it was resent. Of course, the type of letters you publish and when you publish them is at your discretion. I presume that’s a product of your right of freedom of expression. I would leave convenience for later.

That aside, based on your lengthy note that accompanied my letter, it seems as if you either misunderstood the point I was trying to make or deliberately avoided it simply because of the point that was being made. I wasn’t referring to coverage based on what an official or officials would have said in relation to the cut of the Government Information Agency’s (GINA) budget. I was specific about the blatant lack of coverage by your paper of two releases sent by GINA regarding its position of the premeditated cut of its budgetary allocation for 2013.

According to your response, GINA has no right to articulate the impact of such cuts. The cuts threaten the existence of the agency, and if they are to take effect, then jobs will be lost and its mandate will cease. It other words, am I to believe that you are clearly stating that in this scenario, GINA should not defend itself in the face of a potential shutdown? It begs the question, what qualifies the Stabroek News to presumptuously determine who should or should not defend itself? Is it that the Stabroek News condones such reckless attack on freedom of expression and possible job loss?

I recall when your paper defended itself in weeks of “headline protest” against what it regarded as an attack on press freedom when it was not in receipt of government advertisements for a period of time. The right to defend yourself was never questioned; it’s a given right to all. In the same manner, GINA has a right to defend itself. Also, your paper’s defence was not only carried by itself, but by other media houses. It begs another question, is it that the Stabroek News would prefer that GINA stays silent as the opposition so desire? I would not expound on such a nexus here.

Further, in your response you noted, to the effect, that the content of the releases in question, bordered on the absurd. Isn’t it absurd that you have pronounced that such an Agency has no right to defend itself in the face of such adversities? Based on your argument, GINA has no right to defend itself and by extension, it has no voice according to you. How then do you explain the Stabroek News soliciting a comment from me in 2007, when I was just appointed head of the Agency, with regards to the paper not receiving government advertisements?

How is it when the Stabroek News was not receiving government advertisements, it declared it was an attack on press freedom, but when GINA stands to lose its entire budget and staff could lose their jobs, the same paper doesn’t see it the same way? Clearly, your position demonstrates a convenient use of the term “freedom of expression.” GINA will endeavour not to be silenced either by the Stabroek News or the opposition. While you can deny publishing GINA’s letters and related releases, the right to freedom of expression is not confined to your paper.

In addition, I am not unmindful of the unrelated issues you raised in your response. The ‘red herrings’ were too glaring to miss and I can only believe that it was an attempt to distract from the real point I noted.

Yours faithfully,
Neaz Subhan
Director
GINA

Editor’s note

1.  With regard to the delayed publication of Mr Subhan’s first letter, it was sent only to the Editor-in-Chief’s email address, and he happened to be on leave at the time and  did not see it.  Might we suggest that in future Mr Subhan use either of the newspaper’s email addresses (stabroeknews@stabroeknews.com   stabroeknews@hotmail.com) where letters to the editor are generally sent.

2.   We did not misunderstand the point Mr Subhan was making. What we did was to observe that government information agencies are not news agencies or media houses in their own right, and GINA is not the equivalent of NCN or the Guyana Chronicle. The latter are entities which can make political statements in their opinion columns on their own account, even though in practice they reflect the views of the government alone, whereas GINA’s function is to convey government information and stances to the outside world. Is Mr Subhan saying, therefore, that GINA has now cut itself loose from the government, has acquired rights of freedom of expression independent of its government role, and it is these rights (as opposed to those of the government) which are being trampled upon?  If so, then the public needs to be apprised of this novel development.

As for Stabroek News approaching Mr Subhan in relation to the government’s withdrawal of ads from this newspaper, he is aware it is a section within GINA that handles government advertising, and when ads to SN were initially cut off, there was no statement whatever from the government or the agency in relation to the issue; they simply ceased. Inevitably, therefore, GINA was approached first to find out why they had ceased.

3. As far as the substantive point about GINA’s independent right to freedom of expression is concerned, point 2 above refers. If it is a matter of the government’s freedom of expression which Mr Subhan feels is at issue, then it can only be repeated that government controls a newspaper, while another is seen as reflecting a government line; it has a TV station, while there are others sympathetic to it; and it has a radio station, where all other radio licences are held by its friends. It would hardly appear, therefore, that government has a freedom of expression problem. 

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