President David Granger has denied that Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan attempted to interfere in the editorial direction of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle by way of a recent letter that was critical of its coverage.
Granger’s defence of Bulkan prompted Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday to accuse the government of politicising the state media more than his party did while in office and he charged that the APNU+AFC administration has made a “full-fledged” retreat from its manifesto promises.
In his letter, Bulkan had argued that the members of the newspaper’s editorial team would have better served their “public duty” if they had given more prominence to the swearing in of Mayors and Deputy Mayors rather than ExxonMobil’s discovery of oil reservoirs at its Snoek well in the Stabroek Block in the Friday, March 24, 2017 edition of the newspaper.
President Granger was asked about the issue on the Public Interest interview programme last week and in response he said that he did not view the minister’s letter, which was published in the Chronicle, as interference. Instead, he said it was a case of Bulkan expressing his concerns as a private citizen.
“I do not think he attempted to coerce or to use his ministerial influence to change what I regard as the editorial right to publish an article or to publish news stories. I don’t think there was any interference at all,” the President said on the programme.
He further stated that Bulkan wrote a letter “just as anybody else could write a letter,” while indicating that he did not agree with statement by the Guyana Press Association (GPA) that was critical of the minister and that he had seen “worse letters by other people and the fact that it came from a minister does not constitute interference.
“If he had gone into the newsroom and ordered changes to be made that is a different matter, but I do not support the view that the action by the GPA was justified in the circumstances, but the GPA is free to write or do what they want.”
In its statement, the GPA said it was “startled” by minister writing a public letter “upbraiding” the editorial team and it charged that he “attempted to dictate the editorial direction of the newspaper.”
It asserted that Bulkan’s statement “can only” be interpreted as an attempt to drive fear into the editors and reporters of that newspaper, with the sole aim of securing censorship and self-censorship.
“These actions run counter and, in fact, are in direct opposition to President David Granger’s repeated assertions that his government will allow state newspaper, TV and radio to function as independent entities,” it said.
“We call on President Granger to ensure that the Prime Minister and the rest of his Cabinet understand his stated policy on the state media and to urge them to let their actions be guided accordingly,” it added.
However, Granger said that he believes that sometimes important national events occur and some newspapers ignore such stories. “Sometimes they do not cover important stories but we are talking about human beings. We are talking about biases; people make decisions, make choices and they decide what is to be published. But as far as the matter you are raising is concerned, the minister did not decide what should or should not be published. He expressed an opinion on what had already been published,” he further stated.
‘More political than PPP’
Speaking at a press conference at his Church Street office yesterday, Jagdeo claimed that Granger said it was “okay” for ministers to call the Guyana Chronicle and “speak to them or to give instructions to the state media” and to call the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper and “talk about where their articles should be placed in the newspaper.”
Jagdeo did not say where the President reportedly made these statements and Granger did not make any such
pronouncements in his response on the Public Interest.
Jagdeo also made mention of the GPA’s claim in its statement that a senior minister “continues to dictate coverage of his office to the Editor-in-Chief and often has stories sent for his approval once it has to do with his office or the PNC, the main party in the governing coalition.”
This matter was not addressed by the President in his response.
Jagdeo pointed out that the current government while in opposition had campaigned against interference in the state media and had even cut the budgetary allocations for state media because it was not reflective of the views of all.
The GPA’s statement also mentioned Director of Public Information Imran Khan’s continued role as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Guyana National Newspapers Limited, which is the publisher of the Guyana Chronicle.
Jagdeo also raised this fact and pointed out that when his party was in office the last two chairpersons of the GNNL’s boards were not party members as opposed to Khan, who is an executive member of the AFC.
“This is even more political than when the People’s Progressive Party was in office,” Jagdeo said, while adding that the head of the Government Information Agency (GINA) Beverly Alert is also a member of the AFC’s executive.
He pointed out that the last director of GINA under the PPP/C “at that time he was not a card bearing member of the party or nowhere in the executive.” The last director of GINA under the PPP/C was Neaz Subhan, who was openly supportive of the PPP/C.
“So who is more political?” Jagdeo questioned, before adding that it “smacks of AFC’s cronyism, the same sort of thing that they campaigned against and said that they detested….”