… Pulling of CNS 6 program
The dropping of a live call-in programme by CNS Channel 6 over the weekend has sparked accusations of rights violations with one of the hosts yesterday saying that President Bharrat Jagdeo made the telephone call that led to management making that fateful decision.
President Jagdeo was not available for a response.
Both Ramon Gaskin and attorney-at-law/columnist, Christopher Ram, hosts of the “Keeping Them Honest” programme, during a press conference at the Pegasus Hotel yesterday, had harsh w
ords for the decision which they said resulted from pressure by the government.
The press conference also saw the attendance of senior diplomats from the US, Canada, European Union and Britain; and representatives from the Alliance For Change, the Guyana Bar Association and the Guyana Human Rights Association.
After being aired for 15 consecutive weeks on CSN Channel 6 and costing $30,000 on each occasion, on Saturday the programme sparked the station’s Managing Director, C.N. Sharma, to drop a bombshell in a letter to Ram pulling the programme.
“I regret to advise you that I can no longer offer you airtime for your broadcast of the …programme. This decision, which takes effect immediately, has been taken for regulatory reasons following a conversation I have had with the relevant authorities concerning the content of the programme.”
CNS under Pressure
Sharma made it clear that the decision did not come without pressure. “I thank you most sincerely for choosing the People’s Station CNS6 for your hugely popular and useful program and I trust that you will understand the pressure to which my TV station has been subject to over the past several years and the sensitivity of the authorities in the current politically charged environment.”
There were no immediate criticisms of Sharma or his wife, Savitri, on the decisions with both Ram and Gaskin saying that they “understand” the pressures.
Recently, following the controversial airing of a programme by government critic, Tony Vieira, the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) found CNS Channel 6 guilty of breaching regulations and recommended to President Bharrat Jagdeo that the station be closed for six months.
After a meeting with the Sharmas, the President did not enforce the decision and this was likely the “sword of Damocles” that the administration is swinging above the station’s head, both Ram and Gaskin contended.
Reading from a prepared statement, Gaskin said that the decision of the “executive authorities to intimidate the Sharmas and TV Channel 6 into closing down the public affairs programme “Keeping Them Honest”… is not only utterly disgraceful and obscene, but that it constitutes a grave violation by the Jagdeo Government of the fundamental right of Guyanese to free expression guaranteed in Article 146 of the Constitution and the several conventions and treaties to which Guyana is a party, including the United Nations Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Chapultepec Declaration.”
This is not the first time that the ruling administration, led by President Jagdeo, has demonstrated complete disregard for this fundamental right and other enshrined constitutional provisions of citizens and the television broadcaster Channel 6, the activist said.
“We are concerned that until and unless our society takes appropriate action, the present ruling group of uncultured and partially educated, corrupt politicians, totally unschooled about modern governance, democratic values and constitutional order, will feel emboldened to continue its nefarious ways.”
Gaskin noted that while Guyanese may have honestly believed that such practices ended in October 1992, these have now become a norm, with increasing boldness and viciousness.
Both Ram and Gaskin believed that the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic is desperate not to lose the upcoming general elections.
“Nor do we believe that the timing of the intimidation of the Sharmas coincidental. The government and the ruling party know that for them a loss of power would have serious consequences. They are desperate and their actions will become more irrational, if yet understandable. For the wider Guyanese society such action to suppress press freedom is intended to subvert and distort the electoral and democratic process.”
According to Gaskin, Guyana finds itself in such a situation, with desperate individuals corrupting the moral and democratic culture of the country.
“Fortunately, elections are due soon and those who now practice unrestrained power have only a few more months in this term to complete their dangerous agenda. Guyanese must therefore be vigilant to halt this recklessness.”
According to Ram, the threat of closure is dangerous, irresponsible and downright dangerous at a time when eyes are on the country and on this administration.
“We understand the dilemma in which Mrs Sharma and Mr Sharma find themselves.”
Ram and Gaskin has since asked HBTV Channel Nine to air the show but that management wanted to seek legal counsel and to also discuss the matter at its Board of Director level.
According to Ram, who also airs a taped programme, “Plain Talk”, weekly on WRHM Channel 7, that programme may serve as another means of getting the message out with possible recourse at international forums.
He acknowledged that any local actions may face hurdles like getting the Sharmas on board or even give evidence.
Questioned about evidence that the ruling administration may have had a hand in the decision, Gaskin finally contended that it was President Jagdeo who called. The activist made it clear he was not afraid to speak out and would not be silenced.
Ram disclosed that he spoke to the Sharmas and was convinced that they were pressured.
“I had several conversations with the Sharmas…the details of which I am privy… and the action convinced me that it was not premature… The threat was real and imminent.”
According to Gaskin, he has spoken with ACB but there were no complaints about the call-in programme.
“…(They are) not gonna close us down…can’t silence Ram and Gaskin… nobody, nobody can silence Gaskin…Ram too.”
Ram and Gaskin also revealed that they were promised to host one more program tomorrow but this was shelved too.
Sharma has had a running battle with the government in past years over programs with the President in one case ordering the closure of the station for four months. He is also facing legal worries, including sex charges.
At the press conference also were US Embassy Charge d’Affaires, Thomas Pierce; British High Commissioner, Simon Bond; Canadian High Commissioner, Francois Montour, and Head of the EU Delegation, Geert Heikens.
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