Friday, July 22, 2005

Stella Ramsaroop's fears are seriously misplaced - Robert Persaud

Here's Robert Persuad's well written response to my letter regarding the President's suit against Stabroek News and Christopher Ram.

Stella Ramsaroop’s fears are seriously misplaced

Dear Editor,

I have read a letter by one Stella Ramsaroop in the daily edition of the Kaieteur News (20-07-05) and the Stabroek News (21-07-05).

The writer’s fears are noted but seriously misplaced and it is because of this that I feel compelled to respond to her.

The constitution is quoted and relevant articles mentioned. Unfortunately though, the letter writer obviously failed to read those articles and the other articles relevant thereto in their entirety. Article 40 (2) of the Constitution clearly provides that “the fundamental rights provisions shall effect for the purpose of affording protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual subject to such limitations of that protection as are contained in those provisions, being any individual does not prejudice the rights and freedom of others or the public interest: Article 146 clearly states that a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression … but that nothing contained in any law shall not be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of Article 146 to the extent that the said law makes provision for the purpose of protecting …, the rights and freedoms of other persons.

I would be the first to agree with Ms. Ramsaroop that freedom of expression is an essential freedom in any democratic society. One would recall that it was the PPP/Civic Government, which the President currently heads, that restored this freedom which is relied upon these days as if it were always a part of our culture. The President has always and will always continue to defend and champion the citizen’s freedom and rights of expression, as His Excellency recognises that a society in which the said freedom is denied is a society doomed to intellectual paralysis. It is because of the writer’s freedom of expression which is now guaranteed to her that she is able to enjoy the freedom to offer her opinion publicly, however misguided that opinion may be.

We must not, however, confuse democracy with lawlessness. With every freedom comes a corresponding responsibility which must be treated with as much importance as the very freedom itself.

Mr. Ram’s and the Stabroek News’ right and freedom to print and publish must not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest. The writer herself recognises that in the Declaration of Chapultepec, it is stated that “no news medium or journalist may be punished for publishing the truth or criticising or denouncing the government”. TRUTH is the operative word. Truth is not a relative term. Mr. Ram did not take the time to determine if what he was saying was the truth or perhaps he did and carelessly, without regard for anyone’s reputation, went ahead and spouted his libel.

The Government welcomes healthy criticism and where such criticism is constructive, always seeks to effectively interpret same to benefit Guyana and her people. One must not, however, under the cover of offering an opinion in our free society, maliciously print and publish that which is wholly untrue and cannot be substantiated.

Moreover, it is dangerous and a bad example to allow a minority in our society with their own narrow agenda to blatantly issue libelous statements against members of the administration. The constitutional right to freedom of expression, which is spoken about, does not allow the printing of a false and malicious statement which is likely to undermine public confidence in the conduct of public affairs. So said the Court in the 1990 case of Hector v. Attorney General of Antigua. In our own local Courts in Jagan v. Burnham, the Court was specific that freedom of expression does not include the right to libel or defame a man’s reputation or his office/ businesses. (Many Courts both locally and internationally have so determined).

Critique is one thing. Blatant misrepresentations which are entirely fallacious are another. It would have been remiss of His Excellency, the President, not to have stood up against the series of blatant injustices committed against him, as a citizen or our dear land, by Christopher Ram and the Stabroek News. And this is not the only instance where the President, his Government and his Party have been subjected to this type of malicious reporting. There are strong reasons to believe that the consistency and frequency of attacks and misrepresentation from certain quarters represent an organised campaign and not errors of judgement or instances of poor journalism.

I challenge the writer to tell us which democratic Court has “tossed out” suits which are clearly libelous. I would, however, wish to encourage the writer to continue to enjoy the freedoms guaranteed to her with due regard for the freedoms guaranteed to her fellow citizens.

I am constrained by the on-going legal proceedings on the issues raised. But there is much more I would have wished to cite so that the letter writer appreciate the pattern of libel and distortions targeted against the Government by some sections of the media. I invite Ms. Ramsaroop to contact my office and I will present her with a dossier of libelous and malicious reports, many of which have been ignored, so she can appreciate the gravity of the situation.

Perhaps, this legal action can help stop the hypocrisy of political agitators who masquerade as media operatives and do great harm to the journalistic profession.

All for your information.
Robert Persaud
Information Liaison to the President

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