Dec 27, 2008 Letters
Ever since the young Benschop, very much a chip off the old block, wrote his well-publicized poem, I was moved to share my thoughts about his father, Mr. Mark Benschop snr., who was at the time in jail.
I never got around to getting it done. Then came President Jagdeo’s pardon of Mark, and I still could not summon up the motivation. Now, with the latest pardon of Mr. Phillip Bynoe, the treason co-accused with Mark, now that there is a closing of the treason episode, the time has come.
I cannot remember when I first became aware of the young Mark Benschop. As I dig deep into my memory, I am remembering that there was a pleasant buzz about this well articulated and impressive young TV host on a station which was marketing to a pro-PPP constituent. The truth is that that particular channel was not a first go for me, so I got only passing glimpses of the circumspect Mark Benchop.
I was more comfortable with what the Noel Blackman, Sharma, Rex McKay and Vieira channels had to offer. I even had a preference for the foreign materials on the channels, like Oprah, Sixty Minutes, the movies — lots of movies — HBO, CINEMAX all for free. (Sad note. I can’t afford these channels in the US) Having not found the local programmes, except the news — Kathy Hughes, Enrico Woolford — interestingly enough, I mostly had my TV hooked up to a VHS player, whereby I could also watch bootlegged movies not yet released to HBO. Life was good.
When Mark left that channel, and I have no idea why, to ply his trade at Channel 9, he caught my full attention, and I can safely say the attention of many, many Guyanese. It became a nightly ritual for my family and me to watch ‘Straight Up,’ and again I can safely say the same for many families.
Mark was a refreshing intervention to reporting generally in Guyana. That was my impression from the late 90’s to 2001, when I left GT. None of the players on the scene at the time matched Mark’s dynamism, magnetism, programme content and approach. Of course, the content was mostly anti-government, but let’s face it: It is rare that a Government in office does not get the majority of the hits; and in this case, after a tentative wait-and-see period after 1992, and when it became obvious that the Government had no intention of changing constitutional direction, the build-up of causes for criticism were enormous by 1997.
Mark’s shows were not political comedy but they were lively and held your attention. Because of my lack of exposure to various reporting styles, I, and I am sure many Guyanese, did not understand what Mark was doing. Mark was ultra-investigative in his approach, he was not afraid to speak his mind or follow a lead. He also, with great effect, included parody, which was very amusing to the listeners and damaging to the objects. Parody? I did not even know what a parody was. When he used it, and Commissioner Laurie Lewis was the greatest object, I laughed my head off, but at the same time thought that this man was out of his mind, he may have been taking his “rhetoric” to the edge of breaking the law and definitely disrespectful.
After coming to America and after watching programmes like Saturday Night Live, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel and the likes, Rush Limbaugh, Shawn Hannity and the likes, I settled into the conclusion that Mark fits into the mold of a Keith Olbermann, and he was bringing to Guyana a refreshing international TV model and presence of serious political analysis and probe. We were not ready for the paradigm shift. It created much relief and amusement for the audience, but bugged the hell out of the Government and law enforcement. It got him in jail. Amazing! Treason? It is hard for me to come to that conclusion, but that is just me, and you will see why when I present my brief later.
Mark included live interviews on his programmes. His interviews of the late First Lady Viola Burnham and Mayor Hamilton Green were superb. Mark’s aggressive investigative approach once took him, his microphone and his camera onto the Atlantic, where a boat with contraband, or guns, or something to that effect, was detained by the Coast Guard/Customs, to do interviews and get updates on what was going on from the authorities. Thrills-up-your-spine reporting.
The period 1997 to 2001 was rife with protests, marches, strikes, choke-and-rob, the works. That was the period in which the PNC went to court to contest the result of the 1997 elections and lost. In the midst of the public servants’ strike and chaos, our country’s business ended up in St Lucia, the PPP’s term in office cut short, and all this culminating with the famous handshake between the late President Hoyte and President Janet Jagan. One can very well imagine the confusion in GT at that time.
Mark, being the kind of reporter he is, was in the thick of it all; and anytime word got out that he was broadcasting live from a hot point, his TV audience came out on the road in numbers to see this marvellous reporter at work. All this did was add to the confusion, creating nightmarish situations for law enforcement.
I don’t believe that Mark understood GT politics very well. He seemed to revel in the attention he got, unaware of the monster he was creating for himself. Persons would call in to his show and say things like, “After we win this election, you’re a dead man”, meaning dead like killing of reputation, career, or like taking of life, but Mark would shrug it off just as a TV reporter in the US would, maybe thinking or having no fear of such things ever happening.
As all this was going on and as we went through the period approaching the 2001 elections, Mark was professional and adamant that, even though the PPP was the recipient of most of his hits, he would be impartial and back no party for the elections. Then, suddenly, he broke his promise and backed the PNC. I said to myself, “All gone lake”. I was not in Guyana. I did not get a close-up of what took place outside the Office of the President, where two persons were killed and Mark and Phillip ended up as treason accused. I am still not sure if Mark was there as a reporter or protest organiser giving orders. I cannot take Mark’s mere wishes or calls for the Government to go as treason, because it happens to George Bush every day here in the US. I do not know if on that day Mark stepped over the line of legitimate protest and took the matter of trying to change the Government into his own hands. Because what I write here is not about what I read in the press, but is, instead, based on a close-up point of view. I cannot comment with any fairness about what happened outside the office of the President.
Now, this is my brief. I gave my impression of Mark Benschop, but what about Phillip Bynoe? Tough, average Guyanese man, PNC back bencher in Parliament, representing Linden. Never had a major run-in with the Government. After 1992, he got in to the utility business and brought Texas investors to invest in the electricity company in Linden/Ituni. When that did not work out, he got into logging. Was a little pushy with dealings with the Forestry Department, but that was it. He was no known threat to the PPP. He could not likely motivate a following to be a political heavyweight. That would mean stepping on or over Mr. Hoyte or Mr. Corbin.
But with Mark, that was a different matter. I did not get the impression that he had intentions of going into politics — he was merely a reporter then. But what if he did get ambitious? Mark had acquired the potential of being a political heavyweight. He had a following, he was good with words, and he was captivating. I am sure it scared the daylights out of both the PPP and PNC.
A joint party conspiracy? Only the Lord knows. But let’s look at the result. An anti-government reporter ends up in jail for treason charged along with a PNC member, only that PNC person never went to jail but is supposed to be in hiding. The pro-PNC reporter got lukewarm support from the PNC; his pro-PNC legal team squeezed every dime out of him and left him hanging, while his family life is destroyed. After five years in jail, after this reporter is brought to his knees a broken man, and after he is believed to have learnt his lesson, he is pardoned and set free — no treason indictment.
Now, the co-accused, who spent not a day in jail, is also pardoned. He is saying in public how sorry he is and all that sordid stuff. His business was never interrupted, his family life not destroyed, although I am sure it was very inconveniencing “keeping up appearances”.
A young talented reporter — a small, fragile looking man when not with a microphone and wearing a suit — with political potential, he may not have known what he had was intentionally destroyed because of fear and a gross misunderstanding of the fresh and modern approach he brought to the local media. A lot of persons should be saying, “Sorry, Mark”. A pardon was given, and I hope it came from the heart. Forgiveness is in order, Mark. It’s good for the soul. Things happen for a reason. “Thank you, Mark”, for adding some spice to many of my evenings when everything on the political scene was out of control and crazy, and my daily life was a predatory-like hunt to make a living. I am disappointed that no one has taken your approach to reporting, but I can understand why.
Remember, this is just a brief. It is my take/spin on the events surrounding Mark. It is just my warped mind at work and out of control. Others may have seen it differently. It’s no big thing.
Aug 13, 2022Captain of Hawaiian Sensation, Damodar Daesrath, has stated that his team is ready to make a big impression at the forthcoming Canada Cup One three-day softball extravaganza set for September 2, 3...
Aug 13, 2022
Aug 13, 2022
Aug 13, 2022
Aug 13, 2022
Aug 13, 2022
Kaieteur News – If anyone should possess the institutional memory of the post 1970 history of the PPP, it is Clement... more
By Sir Ronald Sanders Kaieteur News – In the first part of this commentary, the conclusion was reached that the great... more
Freedom of speech is our core value at Kaieteur News. If the letter/e-mail you sent was not published, and you believe that its contents were not libellous, let us know, please contact us by phone or email.
Feel free to send us your comments and/or criticisms.
Contact: 624-6456; 225-8452; 225-8458; 225-8463; 225-8465; 225-8473 or 225-8491.
Or by Email: [email protected] / [email protected]