Ironic, isn’t it, that on the same day news flared up in the United States and Europe that the Italian mafia connects with Guyana to smuggle narcotics across the world, General Secretary of the ruling political party, Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, was launching a verbal attack against the free, independent press?
Yesterday’s Stabroek News reported on Rohee’s assertion that his Party, the People’s Progressive Party, receives less reporting coverage in its pages than Opposition parties, and his lamentation that this means a national newspaper is campaigning to not only dislodge the Government from office, but install the Opposition in power.
The claim, as ludicrous and stupid as it is, especially given the detailed stats Rohee provided with such paranoid precision, says a lot about where the powers that be in this country focus the national energies.
Our nation faces a serious crisis in its judicial integrity, with crime spiralling, with corruption at all levels of the State unchecked, with organized crime becoming entrenched into the heart of the national economy: and Government has the time, resources and manpower to scrutinize how a newspaper reports on politics.
Granted that the ruling party grew up on communist dogma, and hence could be excused for its ignorance of the role of the independent, professional media in a free and democratic society, our nation could only be left speechless after such a juvenile outburst from the General Secretary of the Party, and Home Affairs Minister in the Government.
In the interest of public service, one feels compelled to provide Mr Rohee with a rudimentary training programme on the role of the free press in a democracy. Indeed, this lesson may be long overdue, and, hopefully, someone would read it to him, slowly and deliberately so the Minister gets it.
The role of the free press is simply to stand guard over the society, to act as the watchdog, ensuring that the rights of the people remain uppermost in the mind of the power structure.
The masses serve the purpose of voting ordinary, fallible politicians into power to govern their national affairs and to manage their socio-economic development as a society. After that voting day, the masses become silent and voiceless.
To balance this, the free media plays the pivotal role in a free, democratic society, ensuring that the people – ordinary, hardworking souls – exercise their voice in the body politic.
In fact, the Stabroek News functioned as the main free media in this society leading up to the ground-breaking 1992 elections, which propelled the current Party into Government. The newspaper campaigned fearlessly for free and fair elections, and covered Rohee’s party, as the main opposition party back then, with extensive, comprehensive reporting of its political agenda.The then Government also perceived the free, independent thinking Stabroek News as antagonistic to its agenda to stay in power. One would think the People’s Progressive Party would remember the history of this country.
It boggles the mind to think that this Party would be so antagonistic towards the Stabroek News, refusing to recognize its role as a professional independent voice of ordinary citizens.
But, worse, it indicates that the Government and ruling Party harbour a dangerous mindset about how society is governed, and how citizens should exercise their rights.
While the Government-controlled State media completely shuts out the Opposition from any reporting coverage except political smearing, Mr Rohee sees fit to lament about a free newspaper that grants a voice to a voiceless Parliamentary Opposition, even though his own Party benefited, when it was in Opposition, from widespread coverage in the Stabroek News.
What’s the rationale, thinking, reasoning behind this latest outburst? Why the attack on the Stabroek News, now going on for years, following the banning of State ads to the newspaper?
Were it up to this Government, one gets the sickening suspicion that Government and the ruling party would do everything in their power to shut down the independent press. That’s the bold danger sign that rears its ugly head, when we hear such utterances from such a personage as Mr Rohee.
We cannot be passive about such draconian, dictatorial, dogmatic paranoia, because were it to take root in the public mentality, we would see irreparable damage to the social and political integrity of our nation. We must confront the ruling party, Government and Mr Rohee on this irresponsible stupidity.
We want to see Government and political parties welcome the role of the free, independent media in this watchdog role, in playing that critical role to point out human errors and mistakes that would cause damage to the social fabric.
What does it mean to cultivate a democratic society? It means a freely and fairly elected Government, an informed populace, and a free, independent, professional media landscape. Of that tripartite foundation, the media play the crucial role in two areas: informing the people, and providing ordinary folks with a platform where they exercise their voice on the national stage.
One would think Mr Rohee sees himself, the Government, and his Party as infallible repositories of the national good, that we should all just sit back and trust them to do what’s best for each and every one of us.
How dare we question them? How dare we allow the Parliamentary Opposition more of a say on the national media platform than the ruling party and the Government?
Mr Rohee commandeers dictatorial powers over the State newspaper, State TV and State radio stations, not to mention other media organs that are friendly to him and his causes because of fraternal ties.
So what is he complaining about? Who initiated this campaign against the Stabroek News?
Minister Rohee would better serve the public good were he to address the vexing questions of citizens feeling safe in their own homes and on the street, and begging us citizens to contribute however we can to eradicate State corruption and organized crime.
If the Minister really understood the role of the independent professional media in building our society, he would provide leadership that is inclusive and unifying rather than divisive and paranoid.