We shudder to think that we have passed a point of no return and that something extreme will inevitably occur – even in our scandalously lawless, indecent and indifferent environment. But in recent days we have been startlingly reminded of the importance of being vigilant, at all times. It appears that the die has been cast.
A perturbing inclination is continuing to threaten the country’s progress towards true democracy and development, and all right-thinking, decent citizens should take urgent action now to permanently defuse this menace which has gained disturbing momentum.
This threat is evident in the promise of sinister attacks on the Kaieteur News, by so-called “powerful people” in our society. These warnings, oftentimes veiled, emanate from various sources, but most notably from high-ranking State officials.
It is vital to establish that we are definitely not referring to anything that can be reasonably interpreted as constructive criticism or justifiable condemnation of methods of journalism. We are referring to malicious declarations that leave even the casual observer unsettled. Statements that seek to malign independent media houses and media workers for drawing the public’s attention to clear instances of inefficiency, ineptitude, discrimination and rampant corruption in our society.
In any country that aspires to be a democracy, freedom of the media must be respected. The primary role of the media is to be the meticulous watchdog of the people’s interests. Every responsible individual and organisation must be held fully accountable to the citizenry for their plans, words and particularly, their actions. Democracy flourishes where the media fulfil this role in a manner that is proactive, investigative, resourceful, professional and fair.
At this point in Guyana’s history, the nation is enduring particularly challenging times, in which the socio-economic and political climate is especially volatile. In these circumstances, the independent media continues to expose, and rightly so, a plethora of problems that are of compelling interest to the public. In the process, we have quite properly held “powerful people” accountable to the public for their words as well as deeds and, in so doing, seem to have mashed some very sensitive toes.
Unfortunately in recent years, when high-ranking officials of a certain ilk find themselves in the unflattering glare of public scrutiny, many of them adopt the most reprehensible self-defence strategies. When faced with accounting for their questionable statements, decisions and actions, instead of facing these problems squarely by taking appropriate action to address the legitimate concerns of the public, these officials opt to verbally abuse, harass and intimidate media houses and reporters.
If they get the chance, they spew their venom in public, but they usually prefer to do so surreptitiously, from the cover of their high offices. Their attacks cover the gamut of intimidation, both overt and covert. They commonly threaten probing journalists and media entities with lawsuits; permanent denial of information; career derailment; social snubs; and sometimes even physical injury. They have refined a perverse repertoire of intimidation to stop or delay the media from accessing information that is of vital importance to the public.
We maintain that the Guyanese people have an inalienable right to get full media coverage, and to engage in public commentary and debate on issues and events that they deem worthy of such attention.
Editors, journalists and all fair-minded citizens must resist the continued vile attempts to stifle media freedom and disrupt the pursuit of democracy in Guyana. They must fight with every available resource to preserve the media’s right to have full and timely access to information that is of public interest, without unrefined intimidation by the powers that be.
We must never forget that Government and other senior public officials are the servants of the people, not the other way around. When their words and deeds have a bearing on the public’s welfare, they are accountable to the public. The media have a right to facilitate such accountability in the public’s interest and to unfailingly protect democracy and, in doing so, have a duty to exercise their role professionally and responsibly.
When the media do wrong, they should be subjected to the same public scrutiny and censure. However, ensuring that the media fulfil this role appropriately must not and cannot include the type of venomous and menacing verbal assaults that characterise this rapidly increasing trend in Guyana.
This is absolutely unacceptable. It must not be allowed to continue; it will seriously impede the independent media’s ability to seek truth and accountability. Thereby the Guyanese people would not get the quality of information that facilitates healthy, educated debate on issues and events that deeply affect their lives on a daily basis, and be able to make informed decisions when required to do so.
As United States Senator Christopher Dodd once said “When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered”.
We are precariously perched on that precipice.
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