Chronicle’s board defers action on sacking of columnists

-Lewis says political interference evident

The Guyana Chronicle’s Board of Directors has deferred action on a decision by the state-run newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief (EIC) Nigel Williams to discontinue columns by political scientist Dr. David Hinds and trade unionist Lincoln Lewis.

A terse statement from the Board last evening explained that while directors met at a meeting yesterday, “A decision was taken to refer the issue to a fully constituted Board on Tuesday, 13 March, during which a policy decision on the general direction of the content of the paper will be decided upon.”

It added that the meeting will also seek to clarify “the powers and responsibilities of the EIC in relation to policy decisions of the Board, and what action(s) will be necessary if any at all, in relation to the present situation.”

The emergency meeting of the board was called yesterday after news broke of the decision taken to end Hinds’ ‘Hinds Sight’ column and Lewis’ ‘Eye on Guyana’ column.

Williams, in justifying the decision, told this newspaper on Friday that in its continued re-branding the Guyana Chronicle is seeking columnists who can write specialist pieces in areas following the country’s current development trajectory, which includes areas of oil and gas and national security and specifically border security areas, in the quest to educate the readership.

Lewis yesterday stated that he interpreted his termination as “an act of suppression in the state-owned newspaper” and charged that there is “evidently political interference” in the operations of the newspaper.

In a statement, he explained that he was not surprised by the actions since “recent developments” suggested that the powers that be were not comfortable with his points of view, “particularly those that sought to hold them accountable as a caring, representative, inclusionary

government that is just and fair.”

He argued that while the Chronicle is responsible to the people of Guyana, it continues to see government moving to manage and control.

According to Lewis, every citizen and group, regardless of political affiliation, should be given un-biased access and coverage in the people’s organ.

“A strong and astute government functioning democratically should have the ability to counter views and create an environment of public education and gain support for their programmes, which will only happen if people see these as progressive and beneficial to them,” he argued. “…This government’s weakness is its inability to avoid public consternation on basic matters and requirements that speak to good governance,” he added, while charging that many in government are thin-skinned and petty.

The veteran trade unionist advised that in this information era, government should be mindful that it cannot stop the people’s desire for transparency, inclusion and accountability, which international expectations and relations are built on.

“It is backward and counter-productive to want to do otherwise,” he said, while noting that society expects successive governments to do better than their predecessors because it is based on discontent with the predecessor that the incumbent would have gained power. “State media, fundamental rights and freedoms suppression are some of the things the people expressed their discontent with prior to May 2015. These must not now continue under this administration and they must know they will not have our silence or support. Many supporters and well-wishers are being done an injustice and rightfully feel dissatisfied,” he stressed.

Lewis added that as a trade unionist he has discharged his duties without fear or favour through successive governments and oppositions. “I have held all and sundry accountable. I will not stop now. The termination of this column will not still my interest or activism—it will not still my voice, for as long as they are politicians, leaders or anyone whose action threatens society’s well-being that is conducive to labour’s survival they shall hear from me. My eye remains focused on Guyana,” he added.

Lewis’ concerns were shared by Hinds, who on Friday said while he was not sure whether the decision to discontinue his column was politically motivated, as “a political person who comments on political matters, it is not out of place to speculate that the decision was politically motivated.”

Hinds also referred to his relationship with the state newspaper as uncomfortable because he is not a yes-man.

The political science professor further argued that while he supports the government, he is not muzzled by that support as he lives by the principle that support must not be blind and uncritical.

He opined that the Chronicle has slipped right back to where it was during the Bharrat Jagdeo years, becoming an unvarnished mouthpiece of the government rather than a medium where all stakeholders have equal coverage and are subjected to the same scrutiny.

Meanwhile, Williams has said that his actions were not an attempt at censorship. On Friday, he told Stabroek News that both men remain editorial contributors.

According to the EIC, the decision was an exercise of the newspaper’s prerogative to “free up space for other contributors.”

“I can say that the decision has nothing to do with their criticism of government,” he stressed before clarifying that the decision was made by editorial management and not the Board.

In his letter to the columnist, Williams wrote that the “decision has been arrived at following discussions at the highest level of the company in keeping with policy directions.”

Board Chairperson Geeta Chandan-Edmond has referred to this statement as a misrepresentation.

“I believe the highest body of the company is the board and to say the highest body was consulted is a misrepresentation. The board was never approached,” she said.

Williams, however, stressed to Stabroek News that “following discussions” at the highest level was not the same as a board decision or directive.

The letter did, however, say that the decision is in keeping with policy directions. Such directions usually emanate from the Board.

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