I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard about the suit filed against SN by the President, so much so that I thought my husband was just joking around when he relayed the news.
Imagine how much more surprised I was to learn it was true.
How appalling! The President is indeed suing a newspaper for printing a letter to the editor. My mouth is still wide open in sheer astonishment. Therefore, I decided to sit down and go over a few little known facts to educate the president on what constitutes libel in most democratic countries.
To maintain an open government system, it is imperative to encourage the free expressions of the people, as well any medium used to articulate such expressions.
This is even more important when it comes to public figures. A public figure is someone who is elected to public office to serve the people.
When you work for someone, as government officials work for the people, you can and should expect critique. Knowing your employer will scrutinize your work ensures the proficient completion of the task at hand.
Therefore, a president should expect critique from those who elected him.
Traditionally, democratic courts around the world have tossed out any such suits by public officials since they are subject to public scrutiny by choice.
When one runs for office in a free country, public scrutiny should be expected. In other words, people like Mr. Ram, who is a citizen offering his opinion on what he feels are constitutional violations, is expected to do exactly that in order to maintain democracy.
Whether this opinion is valid is for the readers to decide. Mr. Ram simply presented certain parts of the constitution and his interpretation of what he felt were violations.
Notice I'm using words like “opinion” and “interpretation.” Such language is also weighed heavily in libel suits. This was a letter to the editor, not a journalist's article, which is usually taken at face value.
Any rational person knows they are reading an opinion and that it should be weighed as such. It is simply preposterous to have a president sue a newspaper for publishing a letter to the editor that criticizes his actions while in office.
It goes against the very nature of democracy. Democracy demands that the press be able to operate openly and freely without censorship or interference by the government.
Imagine if George Bush started suing people for criticizing him in such a way. American courts wouldn't be able to handle so many cases – and much worse has been said about him. Daily people call him a murderer and say he is trading blood for oil.
Surely, one must have a thick skin when seeking public office, but that does not negate the public's right to express their opinion.
In other words, Mr. President, if you don't want to be criticized – don't run for office!
Mr. Ram has a right to his opinion. This is what Guyana's Constitution says, “No person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference and freedom from interference with his correspondence.”
So important is the freedom of expression and freedom of press, that the same President who is now suing a newspaper for libel signed a declaration acknowledging this fact.
In May of 2002, President Jagdeo joined several other countries in signing the Declaration of Chapultepec, a free press manifesto that explicitly says, “No people or society can be without freedom of expression and of the press. It is an inalienable right.”
At least 29 of the 35 nations in this hemisphere have signed the declaration.
The declaration also says, “No news medium or journalist may be punished for publishing the truth or criticizing or denouncing the government.”
How ironic that the president is doing the very thing he declared he would not do. He is punishing a newspaper for publishing an article that denounces his actions as president.
Hypocrisy in the government? I'm aghast!
When a president starts suing newspapers, this is simply the utmost disgrace to the nation. It sends a chilling statement to everyone in the country to keep your mouth shut concerning your president and government.
If the president wants to respond to the critical opinions of those who put him in office, he could always have an article printed in his government run newspaper.
That would be far better than to bring the democratic system to the crux of collapse simply because his feelings got hurt.
Grow up, Mr. President. These types of games are not funny; they are dangerous to the very foundation of our society.
- Stella Ramsaroop
Read Robert Persaud's Response