When I read the initial reports of the discontinuation of David Hinds and Lincoln Lewis as columnists in the state-owned Guyana Chronicle newspaper I resisted any public comment on the issue although I was tempted to comment immediately. I said to myself something couldn’t be right, and lo and behold it took only a few hours for the chairperson of the board of directors of the Guyana National Newspapers Ltd (GNNL), publishers of the Chronicle, to confirm, through the press, that something wasn’t right.
Having met on Tuesday, it is now reported that the board has voted (5-4) to confirm the discontinuation of Hinds and Lewis as columnists. Simply shameful and pathetic! The Chronicle is the state’s newspaper, not the government’s newspaper. The government is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the newspaper serves the best interest of the state, as it the government too should serve the best interest of the state.
However, there will always be issues which many amongst the population would feel a government is not pursuing in the best interest of the state, and it is the responsibility of the press, both state and private, to provide news reports and opinions which would inform and educate the populace on such issues. Hence, there must be room for critical analysis in the media and the last section of the media to suppress such analysis should be the state media.
The reason advanced for the discontinuation of the two columnists is that the newspaper is “rebranding”. What exactly that means is open to several interpretations. The bottom line is that two columnists who have been constructively analytical of the issues of the day, whose conclusions have not constantly been in keeping with the views of the government, have been discontinued.
If we are to build a truly decent, democratic and prosperous society then all ideas must contend. This recent decision to discontinue the columns of Hinds and Lewis, even if there is the assumption that these two may have political ambitions that would threaten the ruling coalition, is a blow to press freedom. As one who published a parochial newspaper in the US for several years I know how it feels to be paying columnists whose views don’t sit well with the publisher. But as a journalist for more than 40 years I am committed to the ethics of the profession which, regardless of all the analyses about the role of media in society, maintain that the views of the people must not be suppressed.
As a young journalist in Guyana in the 1970s at both the privately owned Graphic and later the state owned Chronicle I often wrote articles, both news reports and opinion pieces which did not sit well with the government of the day. Just ask Godfrey Wray about the Evening Citizen newspaper. I also referred to Prime Minister Burnham as General Burnham when the instruction was to refer to him only as Prime Minister Burnham in military attire. I was summoned to his office and contrary to popular belief prior to our meeting, I was not fired.
Against this backdrop I urge President David Granger, himself at one time a publisher, to intervene and to advise the Chronicle board that it should revisit its decision. His should be advice and not an instruction. For him to instruct the board would be political interference. He should simply ask the board to take another look at the matter.