The move to implement amendments to the Broadcasting Act is ominous

Dear Editor,

Over the last week, we have witnessed two more occurrences that have added to the already many violations of our people’s constitutional rights. These are the passing of amendments to the Broadcasting Act and the instruction by the President to halt police promotions. These measures are indicators of the direction in which our country is drifting. They are dangerous since they violate fundamental freedoms and rights.

The broadcasting amendments are aimed to ultimately repossess licences granted legally to owners/operators of radio and television facilities. One of the characteristic features of a past PNC regime was its intolerance of any independent organisation and different points of view. The rigging of elections by the PNC is well documented and widely known. What is not commented on much these days are the measures it took to control and stifle organisations and independent thinking. We must not forget, too, that it was the PNC under Burnham which stifled press freedom. The privately owned Argosy and Graphic newspapers were taken over by the then PNC regime. This was particularly after the massively rigged 1973 elections. Recall the journalists of the Graphic Rickey Singh and Rick Mentus who were forced to leave Guyana in search of jobs abroad. Mentus, editor of the Sunday Graphic, wrote an editorial headlined ‘The Mind Boggles’, while Rickey Singh’s column was titled ‘The shame is greater than the victory.’

We must also not forget the gallant battle waged by the Mirror in defence of democracy and press freedom. For that, it was starved of newsprint and ink to publish its evening and Sunday editions. It still has not fully recovered from those blows. The Catholic Standard was also reduced to a minuscule version of what it was. The attack on that paper began because of the fearlessness of Father Wong, who edited the paper in the early 1970s. He, too, was removed as editor of that paper. After the 1973 elections, he wrote an article titled ‘The Fairy Tale Elections.’

The move to implement amendments to the Broadcasting Act is a clear and very ominous sign. The regime has the most powerful media unit in its hands. It owns the national television station with the widest coverage in the country. It also controls the most powerful radio station in Guyana. The Prime Minister is in charge of a big media apparatus owned by the regime. Further, each minister now has a public relations unit. With all of this, they are demanding one hour from private radio and TV stations. There is no reasonable justification for this. The regime has more than enough media facilities to get its views out to the public. The only explanation is to control and minimise this indispensable right to a functioning democracy ‒ freedom of expression.

The other issues relate to the subversion of constitutional bodies. The instruction by the President to the Police Service Commission is taking us on a road to chaos.

These bodies have emerged in democracies to ensure their independence; to ensure their proper functioning and to insulate them from political dictation. The instructions not to promote suggest that the regime will use promotion as a tool for control and to de-professionalise the Police Force. The APNU obviously was aware of some ‘division’ in the Police Force, as we see coming out in the public. It is quite possible that having this knowledge they pounced on it to use it to eventually rid itself of those they may want.

These undemocratic practices will have serious effects on the whole country. Every section of the population will be affected. Our economy will decline as these and other such measures taken by the Granger administration take hold. It will lead to further corruption as accountability disappears. It will lead to greater migration where we will lose our young professionals and the brightest in the society. Human capital is vital to a country’s development. These policies will chase many of our best minds away.

It is time to stand up now. Let your voices be heard before it is too late.

The regime must be forced to abandon its plans to stifle freedom of expression and must respect our constitution and the rule of law.

Yours faithfully,

Donald Ramotar

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