Public executions

One of the reasons behind public executions in the past and at present was and is to demonstrate the power of the State so that citizens would be duly intimidated. Public executions have largely disappeared. The growth of democracy has forced the development of more sophisticated methods of state intimidation, even though the gory spectacle remains in a few countries with significant democratic deficits and is pursued by a few terrorist groups, particularly ISIS.

The State machinery, particularly its enforcement arms, are theoretically and practically the major instruments of State control and enforcement. A more insidious form of State intimidation and oppression is the use of the press.

Guyana has experienced starting from the late 1960s, the use of the privately owned press to inflame passions against the PPP Government, to misreport the news, to distort the truth and to encourage violence. The privately owned press was one of the main instruments in the struggle against the PPP Government. I am not familiar with the history of the press before this period. But I am sure it did its utmost to support the colonial authorities to intimidate persons and organisations who resisted the powers of the State, in particular the organized and unorganized workers’ movements.

Shortly after Independence in 1966, the Thompson Group of the UK, which owned the Chronicle, left Guyana and the Government took over the Chronicle and named it the Guyana Chronicle. The Argosy, the other daily, did not survive. Democracy gradually diminished from 1968 and so did press freedom. As resistance to authoritarian rule grew, the Guyana Chronicle gradually became a major weapon of public executions in Guyana, by way of targeting individuals who the State wished to intimidate. There was some resistance by strong and reputable editors such as Carl Blackman and others. But the pressure was too strong and eventually the Guyana Chronicle capitulated completely and became a government and party propaganda instrument used to publicly intimidate and execute political opponents.

There was a brief respite after the 1992 elections under the distinguished editorship of the late Sharief Khan. But it did not last and Sharief Khan ended his leadership of the Guyana Chronicle a frustrated and disappointed man. The Guyana Chronicle then reverted to form.

I had always supported the need for a PPP Government to have a State-owned newspaper.  This support was based on the experience in Guyana when I witnessed with my own eyes the power of the press to remove a PPP government in the 1960s. I felt that a PPP Government would forever encounter hostility from a privately owned press for various political reasons. Unfortunately, the use of the Guyana Chronicle during the PPP’s terms of office did not change from what had occurred under the past PNC Governments.  And today, after a brief respite since the elections of 2015, just as under the  PPP Government in 1992, but in less time, the Guyana Chronicle is again reverting to form.

Maybe now is the time to rekindle the debate as to the need for Government ownership of a newspaper or radio. President Granger promised during the election campaign that if his coalition won the elections, he would sell the Guyana Chronicle. I thought it was a rash promise at the time, but not now, since the Guyana Chronicle is being used as an instrument of public execution.

Police investigations and activities are matters for normal news reporting. For the Guyana Chronicle, in matters involving persons who are involved in Opposition politics or perceived to be connected in some way with the Opposition, or for investigations which have a connection with some departments of the Government, the Guyana Chronicle’s policy appears to be to publicly convict those persons.

In reporting last Friday on the appearance in court of the former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, who was charged with larceny of law books, the Guyana Chronicle, seeking to prejudice the trial, quoted a public servant to contradict what Nandlall is reported to have said. Ms. Melissa Tucker, former Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Legal Affairs, is reported to have told the Audit Office that the alleged pact between Nandlall and former President Ramotar was a ‘flagrant breach’ of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA). She said that the purchase of the law books with public funds for Nandlall’s personal use was a ‘flagrant misuse of public funds.’  Ms. Tucker quoted sections of the FMAA to justify her arguments.

The Registrar of Deeds, Ms. Azeena Baksh, was the next target, also last Friday, in the Guyana Chronicle’s drive for public executions. Blatantly editorializing with intent to prejudice the outcome of the investigations, the headline screamed: “Evidence against the Registrar grows.” In one issue in contention, it quoted a statement made to the Police by Dr. Shyam Doodnauth, the Human Resources Manager of the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority as saying that Ms. Baksh is head of the Budget Agency and the lone person authorized to sign off on the Authority’s payroll. He said: “Ms. Baksh personally instructed me that I ensure she is paid her gratuity…”

The Guyana Chronicle has long had a policy since the late 1960s of maligning those who it feels that the State wishes to be publicly executed. Nothing has changed.

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