Sunday, February 19, 2006

Stella Says…I’ve been contemplating lawsuits, watchdogs and fences

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 19 Feb 2006)

It was with extreme interest that I read that the National Assembly approved a motion on Thursday by the PNCR calling for equitable access to the state owned media. I have stated before that a free press is one of the foundational aspects of a democratic state. It is for this reason that I watch the development of this issue in Guyana very closely.

In fact, it was because of my strong feelings on this issue that caused me to write a letter to the editor of Kaieteur News last summer condemning the President’s decision to sue a newspaper. This letter marked the first time I had chosen to voice one of my many concerns regarding the political and social conditions of Guyana.

It was also this letter that started a spar of words between myself and Sweet and Sensitive Freddie Kissoon. Freddie said I had lost my groove and possibly my marbles by taking such a strong stance on this issue by citing the chilling effect a suit by a president of a country against a newspaper could have on the preservation of the free press.

Well, I promptly let Freddie know that both my groove and my marbles were still intact and the rest is history – as the saying goes. Now it seems Freddie has passed up an opportunity to champion a free press this past week and he thinks I will be disappointed in him for this decision.

I can certainly understand how he would come to this conclusion, but in truth, I am not at all disappointed. In fact, if I had the knowledge and was presented with the same opportunity within the confines that were placed on Freddie, I would have made the same decision. I too would have wanted to examine the freedom of the press (or rather the lack thereof) of the 70s within the context of the degree to which the press is free in Guyana today.

I have often wondered if there were boundaries on this freedom and what the outcome would be if as a member of the press, I took the current administration to task on various matters. I have heard a great many stories as to what has happened to others when they did something that upset those in power. Therefore, I have been watching the development of this freedom in Guyana very closely to see if the government is genuine in its claim to democracy.

In a letter to the editor on July 22, 2005 from Information Liaison to the President, Robert Persaud, MBA said in response to my initial letter on the presidential suit against a newspaper, “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.”

In fact, the PPP was doing so well for a long time and had maintained an impressive level of maturity and dignity, at least in regards to my column. It was beginning to appear that indeed this administration was able to take the critique I handed out and resist the urge to retaliate.

Then one day not too long ago I suggested that their apparent incompetence (especially in light of the flooding situation) might be premeditated. That very morning, and without any notification, my brother-in-law’s costly new fence was tore down and the pieces were hauled away at the command of someone “higher up.”

It is difficult for any direct action to be taken against me since I am so far away, however, it seems someone thought the way to get my attention was through the only person they know to be related to me in the country.

No one will say who gave the command to tear down this fence, but when calls were made to see if it could be stopped since the fence was no more in the way of the canal than any of the rest of the neighbours, the response was an emphatic no. The fence had to come down.

I know my brother-in-law can be a bit contentious at times too, but before this fence issue he was being a good boy and was focused on other issues, so it was more than obvious to us that this whole fence episode was in response to my article from that very morning.

I would like to think I am wrong and that Guyana does not have a government that will take such drastic measures to try and intimidate those who point out their weaknesses. I would also like to think that I can eat all the chocolate ice cream I want and not increase my waistline, but that is just not the case.

I would hate to think of how many people would have open yards in America if their fences were torn down every time one of them chastised the Bush administration for its incompetence. Even worse, I suspect its incompetence is not intentional. I suspect it is more likely just cowboy politics dressed up in some nice suits. Yahoo, partner.

I have an uncle in London who feels the same way about Blair that I feel about Bush. We had a lengthy discussion in Guyana a couple years ago about the glorious day when both leaders will be sent packing. Yet we still have our fences, but no one seems to know where to find my brother-in-law’s fence.

I believe the purpose of a free press is to be a watchdog for the people. We are supposed to point out the obvious and call for action when none is being taken. We are obligated to ask the hard questions like “whatever happened to all of that international aid that came in for the flood last year that was suppose to prevent more flooding this year?”

We are suppose to wonder how those in the government are able to live in such nice houses and drive nice cars when they could not afford to do so before taking office. We all have our roles to play in democracy. The government’s job is to take care of the people. Our job is to make sure the government is doing its job. Still, I do wonder who has recently gained a new fence.

Email: Stellasays[at]

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