…would constitute a grave attack on press freedom – Woolford
By Gary Eleazar
It has been condemned as illegally obtained by none other than Head of State, Donald Ramotar—an audio recording of Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, making threats against this publication—but for the administration to pursue charges against Publisher Glenn Lall and Editor-in-Chief, Adam Harris, under the rubric of illegal interception would be “utter nonsense.”
This is the view of veteran broadcaster and executive member of the Guyana Press Association, Enrico Woolford.
Yesterday, Woolford said during a candid interview, that should this course of action be pursued it would result in Guyana becoming the laughing stock of the Caribbean, “if we continue along this slope of jackassery.”
“This country is going crazy; somebody is going crazy where these laws are being used whimsically and flippantly.”
Woolford said that it would be utter nonsense to use the Interception of Communication Act to deny journalists and media houses of the tools of their trade.
According to Woolford, “We live by recordings, we record people, we record either by pen, audio or video. Having done that, we cannot be therefore subject to any interception law.”
Woolford is adamant that the Interception of Communication Act of 2008 was and is intended for telecommunication providers such as Digicel, GT&T and any other such provider that may come on stream in future whether private or public.
According to Woolford, when people call into media houses, media houses are recipients of information and media houses must have that fundamental right to record that information either on audio or video or somebody actually sitting and writing the information.
“For you to come and say that a sender sends the information, a receiver receives it but if the receiver uses the information or tells their bosses that information or give that information to their boss, then the bosses have intercepted the communication is utter nonsense,” said Woolford.
Asked about the specific law that the authorities seemingly are relying on to pursue charges against Lall and Harris, Woolford said, “We seriously have a problem with reading and comprehension in this country.”
Regardless of whether lawyers are advising members of the Guyana Police Force, they first have to read and understand. “You have to understand what you are reading.”
The act is very clear. “(It) is for telecommunication providers and anybody else who may seek to get in between the channel of communication.”
He added that the fundamentals of communication revolve around the sender, recipient and the channel used.
“If I am at the end with the receiver how am I intercepting my own conversation? The conversation is coming to me,” questioned Woolford.
Woolford said that the Act is very clear in that it spells out what is interception which comes with a caveat that all or some or all of the contents of the information intercepted is meant to be shared with a person other than the sender or intended recipient of the communication.
“Suppose Anil Nandlall has recorded the same conversation, has he intercepted the conversation?
Woolford was adamant that should Nandlall have recorded the conversation also, he would not have been guilty of interception of communication and in the same vein if the reporter recorded the conversation, he too would not be guilty of any interception of communication.
He quickly pointed out that if another media outfit would have had a device capable of monitoring and recording the conversation between Nandlall and the reporter then that media house would have been guilty of interception of communication.
Woolford also weighed in on Nandlall’s double standards in relation to the right of privacy. Following another phone scandal in 2006, where a telephone conversation had surfaced reportedly between the then Commissioner of Police, Winston Felix, and Executive Member of the People’s National Congress, Basil Williams, Nandlall at the time was quick to point out that there was no right to privacy.
According to Woolford, in this case it is because Nandlall “in the sauce now…that is why (Nandlall’s position) is differing.”
He pointed out however that having regard to the extant (existing) law which was not in existence in 2006, “it clearly cannot mean that the recipient cannot record or the sender cannot record and if it does then all of the press, not only in Guyana but in the Caribbean and the Commonwealth. ought to raise an alarm that Guyana is slipping down the slope.”
According to Woolford, if for whatever reason the authorities move ahead with filing charges against Lall or Harris, then it would represent a very serious indictment and would also constitute a grave attack on press freedom in Guyana.
“It is very stupid on behalf of the Police if they do that…Just because your bosses or your masters or your policy makers decide that you should follow a certain route, you have to be independent thinkers, you have to read and understand the law, you have to read and comprehend; you just can’t decide that you are doing something because somebody told you to do it.”
He said, too, that he would also lose confidence in the ability to perform his duties as a journalist in Guyana.
Woolford was adamant that such a course of action by the Guyana a Police Force against members of the media or a media house would have serious repercussions.
He accused the authorities of seeming to be focusing more of its attention on the source of the recording than against its contents.
He said that what is currently transpiring is an act of diversion, the threat of a charge under the Interception of Communication Act.
“The more germane issue is the content…the things the AG said and who he implicated by saying what he said.”
Woolford said that the entire fiasco has proven to him something that he has heard for many years – fact that there are people who live one life in public and another in private.
He did concede that while all human beings must be able to enjoy a private life, as a public figure, once a position is taken publicly and another put on display while in private, “then we are in trouble because it is sending a signal that there are rules for some and rules for others.”
He said for this sort of action to be allowed to continue then today it would be Glen Lall, but in future other media houses will also become the subject of similar persecution.
Woolford also lamented the public position taken by Head of State Donald Ramotar, who has thrown his full support behind Nandlall. Woolford said that the President was clearly ill-advised.
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