This report on the Caribbean Press ignored several red flags

Dear Editor,

Regarding the Stabroek News article, `Caribbean Press to shift its focus to resident Guyanese writers’,  I am disappointed first of all by SN’s apparent complicity in the revision of the history of the Press.  Publication of resident writers was the original intended focus of the Press in the first place, a path that it has deliberately and duplicitously strayed away from, except where it favoured people close the Press.

When in the middle of last year, Dr. David Dabydeen boldly announced that the Caribbean Press was to publish the work of Ashley Anthony, daughter of the Minister of Culture, Dr. Frank Anthony, in roughly six months, not only was the book launched, but it was given prominent coverage by the state media.  In contrast, we can consider the attitude of both men towards the publication of other resident writers over a similar timeframe this year.

In January, in response to my initial inquiries, Dabydeen wrote:

“Before the Guyana Classics Series was completed, the press began to publish local Guyanese writers. A book of articles (many from Stabroek News) by Ian McDonald; Anna Benjamin’s book on the 1763 Slave rebellion; a poetry anthology (at the printers) featuring 22 local Guyanese writers, most of them never published before, and at least two who show serious talent and should be encouraged to produce full volumes. These will be launched publicly when I am next in Guyana, as well as a book by Cedric Costello, entitled Rasta Lyrics, an anthology of Guyanese folksongs, and an anthology of Guyanese short stories.” (SN, January 15)

After the good ambassador to China went on his infamous doggerel rant against the work of local writers, people he apparently published against his stated publication prerequisite of “quality, quality, quality”, the Minister conducted his first PR stunt interview with Gary Eleazar which read in part:

“Dr Anthony said too that ‘we have also started the series where we are working with contemporary writers and we have demonstrated that there are a number of contemporary writers that we have published…  According to Dr Anthony, ‘A number of persons have submitted and out of that we are now working to produce that anthology…I think it is at the printers so it is a balance.’” (Guyana Chronicle – May, 24)

A few weeks later, a PDF booklet appeared on the Press’ website, saying this about the commitment to publish local writers:

“From 2010, the Press began to prepare books submitted to it by resident Guyanese writers, and has published six titles to date (two anthologies of stories and poems, edited by Petamber Persaud, containing the work of Radiante Frank, Bobby Fernandes, Cecil Gideon [sic], Grace Chapman, Ras Leon Saul, Jerome Hope, Raule Williams, Yaphet Jackman, Juanita Critchlow, James Anthony Bond, Rochelle Christie, Omar Bissoon, Indrawati Flaks, Petamber Persaud, Astell Collins, and Monica Thomas; a collection of articles and a book of poems by Ian McDonald; a novella by Ashley Anthony, the first by a Guyanese child in the literary history of Guyana; and Cedric Costellos [sic] Rasta Lyrics).” (June, 11)

After I pointed out the fact that all the writers listed that I had spoken to denied knowledge of publication, a new edition of the document was uploaded with the text above altered to read:

“From 2010, the Press began to prepare books submitted to it by resident Guyanese writers, and has published a collection of articles and two books of poems by Ian McDonald; a novella by Ashley Anthony, the first by a Guyanese child in the literary history of Guyana; and Cedric Costello’s Rasta Lyrics. Six anthologies of poetry written by Guyanese children are being compiled by Revd. Gideon Cecil and his helpers. Two anthologies of Guyanese contemporary poetry and prose are ready for publication pending formal agreements between the editor, Petamber Persaud, and the writers.” (June, 17)

In six months therefore, we’ve had anthologies of local writing that have gone from being without qualification “at the printers” to them currently “ready for publication pending formal agreements”, and this is information that clearly does not raise a red flag, nor is seen as any discrepancy, in Stabroek News’ reportage.  One simply question, for example, that could have been asked was whether a print run was started on the publications, and if so, at whose expense will the reprinting have to take place? And there are several other red flags that the article ignores:

*       The claim has been made that at least fifty books have been published while the National Library, to whom the Press is legally obligated to donate books, has possession of single copies of only seventeen titles.

*       Austin’s Book Store has only twenty-three of those titles, a strange number considering that even so it surpasses the number that the legal repository, the Library, has in its possession.

*       The Ministry of Culture has strangely appeared to have bypassed the mechanism of the Ministry of Education’s Book Distribution Unit and has taken up the task of distributing what should be thousands of books to secondary schools across Guyana.

*       Gideon Cecil, a month ago, wrote that he had submitted biographical detail to accompany poetry a few months prior and had heard nothing from Petamber Persaud or the editor of the Anthology, Dr Dabydeen. (SN, June 23).  Now, we learn from the booklet, which in its previous edition listed him as “Cecil Gideon”, that the reverend is now the ‘compiler’ of six books of poems by Guyanese children.  Who are these prolific young poets and how was their work come upon?

*       The Minister has been informed that the Press has published the work of local writers without their knowledge and is yet to respond publicly with the results of his inquiry into the matter, even as the booklet’s new edition acknowledges that the ‘editor’, Mr. Persaud, is post facto seeking permission.  I am one of the writers and I have not been contacted.

Dr. Anthony has been fortunate in that the investigative capacity of local journalism seems at an all time low, and that people in general and the media in particular do not see culture as necessarily important or even newsworthy.  The truth is, the Caribbean Press has arguably had less financial and governance disclosure than the Marriott or the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project. It is amazing that Stabroek News, the paper that is held, and holds itself, to a higher standard of journalism than any other, sees it fit to ignore the bulk of the issues surrounding the Press and for the most part regurgitates an extremely flawed ‘brochure’ by the Press, bulking it up with inadequate information by an alleged Ministry anonymous source who appears more knowledgeable about the Press’ operations than the Minister himself.

I repeat, the Minister of Culture needs to engage in full disclosure about the Caribbean Press, how it is governed and how it spends the taxpayer money under its management, or simply resign since this issue alone shows that not only is he beyond any capacity for basic supervision of an initiative under his purview, but also that he refuses to face any sort of public scrutiny on it.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson

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