The Guyana Chronicle’s decision to stop the independent columns of Professor and patriot Dr David Hinds and trade union expert and patriot Lincoln Lewis is a stinging slap in the face of Guyana’s democracy. As a fellow patriot and advocate of democracy and freedom of speech, I want to make it clear that I am appalled by this blatant power play to silence two of the most outspoken and unbiased social rights activists this nation has ever produced.
I totally reject Editor-in-chief Nigel Williams’s excuse that the paper is rebranding to focus on new areas. These two columnists have consistently criticized government for some time now, and all previous governments of Guyana. That is what they do, and critique of government of the people by the people is always good. They have always critiqued governments in the past and they always will. Just two months ago the Chronicle pulled one of Lewis’s columns from its online edition after the President publicly declared that he had a problem with the headline. It is as plain as day that the dropping of the columns was a politically motivated act calculated to stifle criticism of government. This is not good.
It is deeply troubling to me that the newspaper’s Board of Directors and management have distanced themselves publicly from the decision to drop the columns. What is going on? Where did the directive come from? Is the tail wagging the dog? Is there a loose cannon on board the Chronicle recklessly dragging the newspaper into disrepute? This crude hatchet job is most unbecoming of a state-owned supposedly professional media house. President David Granger should move quickly, either openly or behind the scenes, to correct this wrong before it generates a backlash that could seriously hurt the coalition government. This will move to the international press and places where there are journalistic watchdogs.
I recall during the 23 years when the PPP/C administration was in power, the opposition under former President Desmond Hoyte, followed by Robert Corbin and later David Granger, was fighting for equitable access to state media like the Chronicle to ensure that the public was exposed to opposing political views. I recall even further back, during the regime of the late Forbes Burnham, the then opposition, in which current Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo was a key player, was fighting for the same equitable access to state media and even objected to government’s use of the term ‘Minority Party’ to refer to the opposition.
In that era, Dr David Hinds and Lincoln Lewis, along with others like me, protested against the little snippets of media access doled out by the government of the day. We said then, as we say now, that the state media are not paid for by government or the ruling party, but by the hardworking taxpayers of Guyana. Therefore, access to the state media must be available to all Guyanese and the news and views must not be dominated unfairly by members or supporters of the party in power.
I know that PM Nagamootoo is recovering from major surgery and might not be involved in the Chronicle’s decision. However, I believe, as an internationally acclaimed journalist and an attorney-at-law who ought to know the value of preserving and promoting democratic principles, the PM should intervene and use whatever discretionary authority he may have to overturn the Chronicle’s mischievous assault on the fundamental human rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. It cannot be right and fair for a journalist of the PM’s calibre to sit quietly and look the other way as the Chronicle tramples on the rights, freedom and dignity of Dr David Hinds and Lincoln Lewis. This is something PM Moses fought for his entire life.
I strongly believe that democracy thrives when persons with opposing viewpoints can contend openly without fear or favour. I have often disagreed publicly with the views of Hinds and Lewis and they have often disagreed with mine. Yet I have always valued their right to express their own opinions as I have a right to express mine. It is vitally important to allow conflicting views to meet head-on. That is the way of true democracy. Anything else would be a recipe for the enslavement of people’s minds with all the resultant negative effects.
I am not aligned to any political party; I call it as I see it. I think it is unbelievable and unacceptable that the members of the coalition government fought for media access when in opposition, but now that they are in power they want to muzzle spokespersons of conscience. Is this the nastiness of politics in Guyana? I thought it was wise to have heroes like Professor David Hinds and ‘spirit warrior’ Lincoln Lewis do their objective pieces, critical or not, in the Guyana Chronicle.
I write as a lover of Guyana. This is a sad day for the nation. I never thought that this would ever happen again with celebrated journalist Moses Nagamootoo as PM. The President of Guyana needs to intervene promptly and effectively.
Roshan Khan Sr