Following the news about the Guyana Chronicle and the termination of the contract with two of its columnists there are a few issues observers of political events and the media would note.
In opposition it was the APNU and AFC that slashed the state media budget. Both parties socialized us to believe the practices of state media outlets in silencing the voice of the opposition and non-government stakeholders; and that dissent and diverse views were anti-democratic. Then Leader of the Opposition David Granger in justifying the opposition’s stance told a crowd “You do not know the full truth because the state media are not free” (SN, May 2, 2012). Mr Granger vowed to continue slashing the proposed budgetary allocation until the practice of silencing the voice of others changed. This righteous tough-talking stance earned the people’s respect and they wanted change to a state media culture they had long clamoured against.
He who presently exercises ministerial oversight of state media is the same person who did so in October 1992. Adam Harris, then Editor-in Chief of the Guyana Chronicle had to resign and up until a few years ago was still not paid his pension and other benefits due him. (I hope this injustice has been addressed.) In 1992 the new Minister of Information Moses Nagamootoo informed Chronicle staffers “the new [PPP] Government wanted a clean slate and was prepared to accept the resignation of anyone who was prepared to leave in the public interest” (KN November 9, 2008). I can recall Professor Ken Danns referring to Mr Harris as one of the best if not the best journalist in Guyana. Mr Harris went on to distinguish himself during the Tony Vieira Evening News telecast and continues to do so with Prime News and as Editor of Kaieteur News.
The state media of October 1992 embarked on a policy that students of media studies would find disturbing. It is best summed up by former President and Leader of the Opposition Hugh Desmond Hoyte who referred to the Chronicle as a rag, and called on the citizenry not to purchase it. In 2015 then Editor-in- Chief Mark Ramotar was fired amidst much government hype about a new media culture and support by the public for it. The current Editor-in-Chief Nigel Williams was hired. His major feature distinguishing him from Sharief Khan who was hired after Mr Harris was ousted, is that he is not seen as someone awash with the raw political smell. If this will be his ultimate undoing or help in his survival, time will tell.
It is always an easy clutch when things go wrong to attribute blame to the PNC. State media operated during two periods of PNC government: 1) the Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham era, when this was a newly independent nation, in addition to being a closed society facing the Cold War and border issues, with the national agenda being driven by indigenous pursuit and survival, and 2) the Hoyte era, where a 19-year-old nation operated in the post-Cold War period, and a world of market-oriented forces.
A review of the state media in the two eras, comparing them to what has happened since October1992 shows a decline in quality and presentation, interspersed at times with a few flickerings of hope.
The truth is what is presently happening in the Guyana Chronicle is not a return to the Burnham era. That era no longer operates. We are living in the PPP state media era, created by Mr Nagamootoo in 1992, and we must respectfully insist he be duly credited for his craftsmanship. I’ve read credit being attributed to Mr Nagamootoo as a longstanding fighter for press freedom. Such an accolade may have credence when having little or no power but could it still be said now that he has power but fails to implement?
President Granger was the owner of the Guyana Review and Emancipation Magazine, which
I was a subscriber of. He attributed having to sell his business to the absence of the advertising dollar. This happened during a period where other media houses experienced similar problems given the pressure brought by PPP government on businesses to withhold their advertising dollars and the withdrawal of state advertisements.
Economics aside, as a politician in the opposition, Mr Granger articulated the view of Messrs Hoyte and Robert Corbin of the PNCR that the state media must be treated as the people’s media, which it is by ownership. Presently this ‘newly branded’ Chronicle, in less than two years of seemingly toddling towards creating a new dispensation for the people, is finding bosom comfort in the October 1992 model.
President Granger is no stranger to being on the receiving end of having others seeking to silence your voice because it is perceived not to be what they think the people should hear. As a student of history, the President could recount numerous stories of such efforts, from the enslavers on down, who failed to stop man’s innate instinct for expression, growth and development.
Finally, it may not matter where the decision lies pertaining to the columnists or their future in the newspapers, but where our society is now heading under two leaders, President Granger and Prime Minister Nagamootoo. As members of the opposition they presented arguments for respecting diverse views, including the right to critique and counter-critique in the state media, but were either or both ever serious about the things they said? This is the issue.