All Guyanese who value the tenets of democratic governance, welcome US Ambassador Brent Hardt’s remarks on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, on May 2. All right-thinking citizens would agree with academic experts and international organisations throughout the world, that democracy simply does not exist in the absence of a free press.
Editor, the truth is self-evident: the electorate cannot make informed decisions unless they have the facts. The citizens can only exercise control over the government if they are aware of the decisions being made by those in authority. And the way that the citizens obtain such information, is through a free press.
Therefore, Guyanese need a free press in order to have real, informed electoral freedom and social stability. As Abraham Lincoln said: “Let the people be aware of the facts, and the country will be calm.”
Editor, there is a direct correlation between press freedom and human rights; in countries where the press is oppressed, the people are also oppressed and abused. We all know of the total lack of press freedom in North Korea, and we also know of the massive human rights abuses, including random executions. From China, where even the internet is censored, we receive reports of political torture, imprisonment and executions. In Cuba and Pakistan where the media are tightly controlled, there are numerous reports of gross human rights abuses. In Guyana, the situation has not yet deteriorated to those levels. But given current trends, this may be only a matter of time. So will we allow it to happen, or will we take back our country?
Freedom to exchange ideas is not only a democratic norm; it is not only protected by the Constitution of Guyana, but it is also recognised by international treaties and conventions. According Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) all have similar provisions.
Of course we would expect that anti-democratic, autocratic, and dictatorial forces, would oppose Ambassador Hardt’s contentions. The forces which condone corruption, secrecy and lack of transparency would never want press freedom. So they will make excuses and try to confuse the issue.
Such wicked forces will claim that the independent media need to be more responsible and should not criticise politicians. But this is a spurious, invalid excuse for attacking the press.
The fact is: it is recognised by respected bodies, that political organisations, institutions and individuals must be subject to greater scrutiny and criticism. In fact, this recognition was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights (ECoHR) as early as 1986, in the case of Lingens vs Austria. The court ruled that criticizing politicians is the job and duty of the media. Therefore, the press cannot be penalised for doing their job.
The oppressors will also make the old excuse, that there was no freedom of the press before 1992. But this excuse also has no merit. If the ruling regime claims to be democratic, then how can they compare themselves to the pre-1992 regime, which they say was a dictatorship? It is the comparison of apples with oranges.
Editor, Ambassador Hardt is correct: it is beyond question that this PPP/C regime is progressively eroding freedom of expression, and whittling away freedom of the press. It is equally clear that this administration will do anything and everything to stymie democratic reforms.
So what can we do? Well, we can take away their power. After all, that is our right.
We must demand elections and take back our freedom and our country.