A letter in Kaieteur News this week, by Mr M Maxwell, made the trenchant point that our forefathers came to Guyana already imbued with the racial prejudices of their ancestral homelands; that those ethnic divides, while recognized and exploited by the British for their own advantage, were a pre-existing condition; it was certainly used but just as certainly not created by the colonialists. Mr Maxwell’s further point was that the division persists today decades after the colonialists are no longer in charge, and he identifies it as being “most responsible for the tragic state of our society” and therefore something that “needs to be discussed” and confronted.
The historical evidence and the anecdotal stories are on Mr Maxwell’s side. There are frequent scholarly references to the matter of entrenched racial positions among the various groups coming to Guyana in the days of slavery and indentureship, and anyone growing up in Guyana would have to have been aware of the condition, as well. Mr Maxwell echoes the point made recently here by Professor Clem Seecharan in his Umana Yana lecture when he, too, referred to our unwillingness to openly confront this rift; his position being that when we assert that the British, and then our politicians, created the racial split, we are proferring a slanted view.
The pertinence of Mr Maxwell’s letter was in my mind as I watched television coverage this week of the recent budget arguments in Parliament. There, too, we were being given a slanted picture of those deliberations, with only the government side being presented on NCN. This aspect of the incomplete, or skewed, is a noticeable feature of our television coverage of issues on our stations, and the public is being badly served by this defect. It is a distressing aspect of television viewing in Guyana, and efforts must be made to correct it.
An important factor in this skewing is that our principal television outlet, NCN, is owned by the government, not, as is the case in most countries, the private sector, and, given that anomaly here, it could be argued that, although public money operates the station, some priority should devolve to the party in power. But when only the government view prevails, the public, intentionally or not, is misinformed and often badly so. Our newspaper coverage conveys two views, often side-by-side on the same page, and issues are thoroughly explored with treatments continuing for days. By contrast, our television coverage of political issues is almost totally one-sided, as well as often being spasmodic, on both sides.
Guyanese, here and abroad, often ask me what I miss most about life outside. Here’s one: I watch television regularly, mainly for sports and documentaries, but I sorely miss in Guyana the kind of expansive televised debate on issues of the day with major advocates on differing sides, coming at an issue in a point/counterpoint format, where the subject is covered in a balanced manner. It is an almost daily occurrence in the developed countries to see a host engaging two proponents, with opposing views on a current issue, each making their strongest points, and each generally refraining from castigation.
The exchange can get heated, but it is usually civilized, sometimes even cordial, and sometimes expansive. The key ingredient, however, is the ‘two-views’ presentation which gets the viewer much closer to an understanding of the essential issues. Even in the tiny Cayman Islands, with a single television station, one gets both sides of the coin on an issue.
By contrast, our televised programmes here on political issues are so one-sided (even the host displays an obviously slanted view) that they are, frankly, embarrassing.
I turn them off, whichever side is ranting, because the identification of the persons involved tells me I’m only getting one part of the picture. For many viewers, and I am one, such a presentation is an insult to one’s intelligence. The producer of the programme knows it is slanted, and he/she must know that I know that, but I am still expected to watch it?
In addressing this problem, it must be conceded that attitudes have become entrenched. I have raised this question of the one-sided participation in discussion programmes here with several television hosts. In every instance, on both sides of the fence, I have heard, “We have invited the other side, but they never come, so we gave up.”
It shows how polarized this situation has become, and as in any polarization, our concerned representatives must get involved to resolve this issue.
Having said that, one could be excused for saying that the polarized behaviour in the media is only a reflection of the polarized behaviour in parliamentary matters and is therefore inevitable, but that is a defeatist position. Innovative persons, and there are some about, must put their minds to the present vexing nature of our television landscape and come up with ways to correct this slanting of the information coming to us. Viewers are looking for precise information, not hyperbole, distortion, and the maligning of others.
How riveting, for instance, would it be to have a TV programme, hosted by a skilled interviewer (leave the academics at home) steering Ashni Singh and Carl Greenidge in a measured debate on budget issues? Or imagine a conservationist hosting a discussion between Minister Robert Persaud and APNU’s Rupert Roopnaraine on various issues in mining? Not only would that make for sure-fire television, but we, the viewers, would end up with a more balanced picture of what is and what isn’t.
In an era when we’re looking to improve our international image in transparency and in other various world rankings, that spectacle on the television screens of our political leaders presenting skewed information to their constituents, without being challenged on it, is embarrassing.
No serious minded person takes the exercise seriously, and the very politicians taking part must themselves recognize it for the farce it is. It is long past time to ring down the curtain on that particular show.