Friday, March 11, 2011

On the government’s obsession with the media

 (Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 11 March 2011)

I have been stewing over some of President Jagdeo’s statements made at Babu John, Port Mourant where there was a gathering to commemorate the deaths of Presidents Cheddi and Janet Jagan last weekend as reported by the website, Demerara Waves, in an article entitled, “Jagdeo attacks Granger; wary of opposition succeeding.”

According to Demerara Waves, the President said, “Someone like Granger will succeed or could succeed if – and they are counting on him succeeding because young people in this country don’t have a memory of the 70s and the 80s.”

And he “urged older party-faithful to educate younger persons about the hard political and economic times when the PNCR was in power and guard against those returning under the guise of democrats. ‘Make sure that people are educated about that past.’”

When I hear this type of language coming from any leader of a nation, I become very distressed. However, when a leader of Guyana says these things, it is irresponsible and – to be honest – a move to divide the nation. To call up to memory the happenings of decades ago is in no way good for the nation.

Ironically, the Guyana Chronicle mentioned that the President also said, “other parties…seek to divide this nation rather than bringing people together; and an era that seeks to chart the nation retrogressively – take it backwards – mentally, economically and, consequently, socially.” To be completely honest, this statement exemplifies the very feeling I get from the President’s call to remember the 70s and 80s.

Having been stewing over the recklessness of these comments for the better part of this week, I happened upon even more statements by the President that shocked me. Demerara Waves reported in a March 9 article entitled, “Media boycott still a political weapon in Guyana,” that at the same gathering at Babu John, the President urged “party-faithful to cease supporting media that he deemed opposed to his party and government.”

That article went on to quote the President as saying, “Don’t put money in their pockets; some of these newspapers are rags because all they would do is to enrage you and move from one lie to the next lie. Some of the TV stations, they are hostile to us; don’t support them if they are hostile to us because they are bent on creating division in our land.”

Is the president of a country telling the people what they should and should not read and what they should and should not watch on television? So what if he feels there are parts of the media who are hostile to him? That is part of being in politics. It is no reason whatsoever to tell the people what they should and should not be able to do.

Does the President not think the people are capable of making up their own minds concerning the issues important to them? Does he believe that if someone reads this newspaper or watches Prime News that they are no longer faithful to the PPP? Should the people of Guyana make their political decisions based only on a diet of propaganda fed to them by the state media?

I do not believe for one second that people will consider complying with his wishes and stop reading the most popular newspapers or stop watching the TV stations he opposes. It is an outlandish request and anyone with a right mind will see it as such.

Still these statements by the President are worrisome. When put together with other statements, like his “shoot to kill” order, there seems to be an obvious sense of desperation in the tone of it all. I do believe there is a real fear in the PPP that this could be the year they are unseated.

Still, that is no excuse to divide the nation by using the fear-mongering tactics the President used last weekend or to call for a boycott on any media the ruling government does not control. These types of actions by the President are the very reason there is a need for media that is not state controlled. In fact, it is these actions that give the media so much to write about.

I often get the distinct feeling from those in power that Kaieteur News and other media outlets exist only because the government “allows” them to exist. The truth of the matter is that these media outlets have a constitutional right to exist. Their existence is not based on the generosity of the government and if they are ever not “allowed” to exist, it will be because the government will be acting against the constitution of the nation.

Dissent with the government is not a reason to shut down a newspaper or TV station. In fact, it is a sign of a healthy democracy when dissent is allowed without government intervention. Calling for a boycott of media outlets that are not state controlled is government intervention, and puts the PPP’s much touted “democracy” proclamation at imminent risk.

I live in a place where thousands, perhaps millions, of people raise their dissenting voices every single day against the government. However, if any political leader ever called for a boycott of a newspaper or TV station, that leader would lead no more.

This is true in most thriving democracies because the liberties and freedom of the people are far more important than any politician or political party.

Furthermore, the current administration’s manic behaviour concerning the media is highly unprofessional. They should be about the people’s business instead of constantly attacking reporters, newspapers and TV stations that do not toe the PPP party line.

The aforementioned March 9 Demerara Waves article said, “The President called on the audience to fight against anyone bent on creating division with “our hearts and every tool available to us.’” I cannot help but wonder if that fight against anyone bent on creating division includes the President himself. If not, it should.

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