Sunday, November 14, 2010

When you attack Freddie, you attack us all

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 14 November 2010)

Yes, I was a bit more than just tickled when I saw that straight line that stopped exactly along my colleague’s fence. I laughed out loud, examined the photo some more, laughed some more and continued this process for another 10 or 15 minutes. Poor Sweet and Sensitive Freddie Kissoon.

The harsh reality, though, is that this situation is no laughing matter. The reason I laughed so much is because no one in their right mind can look at the straight line those stark photos showing Freddie’s uncut canal, after his neighbours had all been nicely cut, and say this was not intentional. If ever there was a show of someone higher up being unhappy at Freddie, this was as obvious as it can get.

Moreover, this untoward incident certainly makes it seem all the more suspicious that the attack on Freddie earlier this year also originated from higher up. And why? Because Freddie speaks his mind when he finds governmental actions to be wrong?

If America decided not to plough the snow away from in front of the houses of critical media correspondents, no one would ever be able to drive in the winter months because there are so very many critics. In Guyana, there is Freddie in the newspaper daily giving his opinion on the state of the country. Even though he has a daily column, all his columns in a year would not add up to the number of critical media reports in America in one day.

Yes, this is another barefaced attack on the freedom of press. From where ever it originated, the intent was blatantly obvious, the person who gave the original order to pass over Freddie Kissoon’s house while cleaning the canal wanted to send a message to a member of the media that he/she was not happy with what Freddie has to say.

The bigger statement is this; this is what will happen to anyone else who does what Freddie is doing. I have been focusing on women’s issues lately, especially domestic violence, because this is a topic that must be addressed to make life better for half of the world’s population. However, I cannot stay silent when freedom of the press is attacked.

It is for freedom of the press that I started writing this column in the first place. Squelching the freedom of the press 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. It is quite obvious that Freddie was censored this week and for that I must speak up.

I simply do not understand why it is so difficult to allow this one man to speak his mind. It is not as if there are thousands of publically dissenting voices in Guyana. There are not even hundreds or dozens. There is Freddie and perhaps a handful of others, like Mark Benschop. Mark sometimes posts on his Facebook page that he fears a physical attack. I do not know how realistic this is because I do not live in Guyana, but he fears it nonetheless.

Here is a potent truth that some in power fail to understand. This truth surpasses all cultural divides and stands true throughout time. The more freedom of press is attacked, the more people who will stand up to defend it. If a Freddie Kissoon meets his end in any other way than a natural one, there will be five who will rise to take his place. The same is true for a Mark Benschop. I do not always agree with what these men say or how they say it, but I will defend their right to say it to the bitter end.

For example, I was minding my business and trying to help domestic violence victims and survivors, but could not ignore the call to fight when an attack was made against the press. Free speech is an essential to a quality life – as essential as breathing and eating – because when a human is forced to remain silent while feeling oppressed, that is a life not worth living. Free press is the breath and substance of a society. Without a free press in a nation, the people cannot breathe.

Another important question arising from this newest attack on Freddie Kissoon is where is the professionalism of the person who ordered this type of action? This was petty and small-minded, neither qualities of a good leader. Even as a columnist I receive critique from my readers and I must remain open to this analysis to become even better at what I do. This is true of every single person in whatever job they hold. It is an immature person who gets upset at critique and inflicts revenge. Again, not a quality of a good leader.

I stand in solidarity with my Kaieteur News family and vehemently oppose yet another attack on press freedom. When an attack is made on one agent of the press, it is an attack on all of us. If the order to skip the section of canal outside Freddie Kissoon’s home did not originate from within the ranks of the government, then the culprit who gave the order should be fired, as an example of the fact that the government does indeed value press freedom.

If the order instead originated within the government, the outcome should be the same. As a show of goodwill toward the free press of Guyana, the person who ordered the workers to skip Freddie’s yard should be made accountable for his/her actions. After all, hidden in the comical and petty action of whoever made this order, we are talking about an attack on the free press of Guyana – the breath of the nation.

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