Four members of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle’s Board of Directors have resigned their positions reportedly in protest at a decision by Editor in Chief (EiC) Nigel Williams to discontinue columns written by Trade Unionist Lincoln Lewis and Political Scientist David Hinds.
Stabroek News understands that Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, Bert Wilkinson and Karen Davis all of whom are members of the Board’s Editorial Subcommittee have tendered their resignations with their departure set to be immediate while Ruel Johnson, another subcommittee member, is set to resign with effect from April 1.
These four have served as board members since 2015. Other members of the Board are Chairperson Geeta Chandan-Edmond, Aaron Fraser, Troy Edmonson, Sherod Duncan and Hilbert Foster.
The columnists were informed via email from Williams that their columns would be discontinued as of March 12 and since that time the political fallout has persisted even after the board recognized the authority of the EiC to make the decision
A press statement from the board had indicated that by a majority vote at its meeting on March 13 it was decided that the authority to reinstate the columnists did not reside in the Board.
“The hiring, firing, and reinstatement of columnists is within the remit of the Editor-in-Chief as per job description,” the statement said
Williams, in justifying the decision, told this newspaper 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.
These explanations did not find favour with several board members one of whom told Stabroek News that the members of the board “who chose to uphold his decision did so by ignoring not only (Williams’) failure to offer credible reasons to end the columns but actual recent precedent in similar decisions,”
Johnson had told Stabroek News that under his list of duties and powers, Williams can only fire contracted workers including freelancers with due cause none of which was presented in the case of either columnist.
He stressed that a decision that should have been reversed and the EIC sanctioned was instead upheld on the false premise that the EIC had absolute power to fire, without question, any worker contracted to the company.
Johnson argued that it was completely unethical and premised on absurd logical contortions that ignored both the letter and spirit of Board oversight. He added that reasons for dismissal of the columnists should have been given in writing on record to the Board.
“The EiC does not have the power to unilaterally change the direction of the paper and content in general. This has implications for the target audience and marketing and by virtue of this requires not only engagement of other sections of the entity, advertising and marketing in particular but guidance in this regard by the Board”, he had explained.
He further stated that at a meeting of the sub-committee, the EIC stated that “he was under pressure to cease the columns.”
Noting the EIC reference of being “under pressure”, Johnson said he asked him at the board meeting what external considerations were used in removing the columns.
“He said stakeholders. Pressed, he said there were all sort of stakeholders. He was asked what disqualified those columnists specifically and he said feedback without specifying. He was asked to produce evidence of negative feedback to support his decision and he offered low site views. He was asked to support this claim. He has not,” Johnson further detailed.
The view that external pressure was a factor in Williams’ actions was shared by the columnists themselves.
Lewis has 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.”
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.
The Chronicle this afternoon issued the following statement:
The Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL), parent company of the Guyana Chronicle, at its Board Meeting yesterday, March 27, 2018, received the tendered resignations of Directors: Tabitha Halley, Bert Wilkinson and Karen Davis.
The Board notes and lauds the many contributions of the Directors and take this opportunity to wish them well in their future endeavours.
Director, GNNL Board of Directors