Sunday, July 02, 2006

Stella Says…Do you want government to protect you from yourself or a media that gives you too much information?

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 02 July 2006)

It was about a year ago that I first wrote about the importance of the media to any democratically inclined society. However, one year later we find ourselves faced with yet another affront to the principles behind the freedom of the press.

This week's offence is not nearly as severe or dramatic as the one I first wrote about last year when President Jagdeo was suing a newspaper for printing a letter to the Editor from a private citizen that challenged the President's behaviour.

This time the media is being shut out of an event they would normally be expected to cover. There was also another incident earlier this year with the Police Officers' Conference as well.

If one takes the time to contemplate the weight of all of these events in just a single year, it could easily be reasoned that the Jagdeo administration is not too fond of this pesky little freedom that is designed to maintain a vigilant eye on the government.

Moreover, it would seem that the Bush administration in America would share their sentiment as well. Last week The New York Times reported on how Bush has now been snooping into the banking records of his citizens.

We first find out he is invading our privacy through the phone lines earlier this year, and now it is our bank accounts. I am beginning to feel like I should just set up an extra bed for Bush in my bedroom because I don't think he'll stop until he rips away every ounce of privacy he has been generous enough to leave untouched to this point.

After yet another arrogant invasion of our privacy, he actually had the nerve to shake his finger at the New York Times for blowing the whistle on his covert operation. I plan to send that newspaper a thank you note for doing their job so effectively.

It is about time the American media crawled out of hiding and began doing its job again. The Editor of the LA Times (who also printed this story), Dean Baquet, aptly defended his actions by stating, "History has taught us that the government is not always being honest when it cites secrecy as a reason not to publish."

In an even more powerful response, the Editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, stated, "It's an unusual and powerful thing, this freedom that our founders gave to the press. Who are the editors of The New York Times (or the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and other publications that also ran the banking story) to disregard the wishes of the President and his appointees? And yet the people who invented this country saw an aggressive, independent press as a protective measure against the abuse of power in a democracy, and an essential ingredient for self-government. They rejected the idea that it is wise, or patriotic, to always take the President at his word, or to surrender to the government important decisions about what to publish."

In fact, journalism is the only vocation in America that is instituted by its Constitution. It would be naïve of us to expect any government to watch itself. Even the U.S. Supreme Court had to give the Bush administration a good slap on the wrist for its conduct regarding illegal tribunals of Guatanamo prisoners.

There has to be an existing and viable entity to watch the government at all times. After all, the government works for the people – not the other way around. Which brings us back to the fact that Guyana's media, the ones who are entrusted to watch the government, is being shut out of governmental functions.

I do understand there are occasions when the government must be able to strategise without the presence of the media, but this should not include events like an opening ceremony for a retreat for the Guyana Defence Force or a police officer's conference.

I think it is more likely that the exchanges at these events would be embarrassing to the administration and it does not care to have those conversations shared with the citizens. The current government should be embarrassed of its inability to enforce the laws of the land.

Some frank and candid conversation between the executive branch and the law enforcement branches is exactly what needs to happen in Guyana – and the people have the right to know what is being said regarding their safety.

Personally, I would rather know everything I can about how a government is running a nation than to be kept in the dark because some politicians think they need to protect me from myself. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I want to know if anyone, including the government, is snooping around my bank accounts or tapping my phone.

I have nothing whatsoever to hide from my government, but my private records and conversations are none of their damn business. However, everything they do as a representative for me is my business.

At the end of the day, I am a smart girl and can assimilate the information I have received from the media regarding my government make my own decision about the job it is doing. It should not be up to them to decide what information I receive regarding their conduct; after all, we are the ones paying them to work for us.

Email: stellasays[at]

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