From its assumption to office in October, 1992, the present Government of Guyana has recognised, embraced, cherished and actively promoted press freedom in all its forms and facets. Indeed, we regard press freedom as a fundamental freedom and right which is enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana.
We view freedom of the press as the cornerstone of our democracy. In recognition of the fact that prior to our assumption to office, freedom of the press and indeed, free expression as a whole was denied to the citizenry, we have worked tirelessly over the years to create an atmosphere which is conducive to an environment where freedom of thought, expression and freedom of the press can flourish.
The policy of the government over the years is reflected in the fact that under this administration, over 20 television stations have established operations, two privately owned daily newspapers enjoying national circulation have been added to two which were in existence, one being owned by the state and one that is privately owned.
Additionally, there are numerous internet generated news agencies, disseminating news on an almost hourly basis.
Significantly, the radio spectrum over which the State enjoyed a monopoly since Independence (1966) was liberated under this Government and currently there are in operation, 13 radio stations, 11 of which are privately owned and their operations are evenly spread right across the country.
The Government does not in any form or fashion muzzle or interfere with any of the aforementioned press outfits. Journalists attached to these media entities have equal and ready access to all members of government and indeed, to every public officer.
This Government has never been accused of intimidating or has in any manner intimidated journalists or compromised their ability and capacity to report freely and fairly.
This Government has signed on, on almost every major international agreement and convention which canvas, promote and protect individual rights and civil liberties.
The Government will continue to take every measure to ensure that journalists and media operators operate in a safe and free environment and one which is free from any form of fear or intimidation. This Government will not in any form of fashion encourage or tolerate any act or omission which will expose journalists and media operators to any danger whatsoever.
Regrettably, over the years, the Kaieteur News has been engaged in an unwavering and institutionalised policy of journalism, lacking in professional and ethical tenets, but steeped in fabrications, distortions, character assassination and homophobia.
The prime targets have been the Government, Government Ministers, senior functionaries of the State, sections of the business community, religious organisations, sections of the labour movement and sections of the civil society supportive of the government and indeed anyone with whom the newspaper publisher has a personal grievance.
Headlines are frequently enlarged and inaccurately sensationalised to scandalise issues and persons, and are often times not borne out by the stories to which they relate, even as distorted and inaccurate as those stories themselves are.
A column within the newspaper which is supposedly satirical, bearing the colloquial caption “Dem boys seh” has been used as an instrument to publish the vilest, most libellous and homophobic sentiments of and concerning hapless citizens.
Attempts by those aggrieved by these offensive publications to solicit apologies, retractions or clarifications are met with further abuse and sometimes with greater intensity in subsequent publications. In those circumstances, aggrieved persons are forced to approach the Court for protection.
Even in those instances, injunctions issued by the Judiciary restraining offensive and libellous publications are ignored with impunity, causing another proliferation of legal proceedings for contempt of Court. To date, not once has the Government ever attempted to muzzle or interfere with the way this media outfit operates.
In recent months, in anticipation of an audit by the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) which is a statutory obligation of the GRA and carried out on a routine basis on taxpayers, as a result of criminal charges filed against the owner of the Kaieteur News and his relatives for evasion of taxes on the importation of two vehicles, the Commissioner General of the GRA and the Attorney General became Kaieteur News’ subject of attacks.
As a result, these high ranking officials were forced to seek legal protection from the Court. Both obtained injunctions, but in vain, as the attacks persisted. Both have filed contempt of Court proceedings. Yet, rather than the attacks ceasing, they have been aggravated.
The situation deteriorated to such a level where Kaieteur News has resorted to fabrication, hacking of email exchanges purporting to come from these two functionaries and publishing them verbatim, as news.
Recently, Kaieteur News has revealed the transcript and tape of a conversation which purports to be that of the Attorney General and an employee of the Kaieteur News. This conversation was private; it was illegally recorded, distorted, manipulated and taken out of context to reflect a different dialogue.
The Attorney General has since filed legal proceedings and the matter is currently sub judice. Any further commentary thereupon may be interpreted as at attempt to prejudice those proceedings. The matter is also being investigated by the Guyana Police Force.
We believe that these extreme measures are resorted to by this newspaper to avoid being subject to the Rule of Law and constitute measures of blackmail designed to force a withdrawal of the charges and freezing the impending tax audit. This newspaper also fabricates and concocts damaging news about businesses that do not patronise it with advertisements.
The Government of Guyana cannot and will not sanction a Press being unleashed in this manner on the populace. All are equal before and must operate within the confines of the law and the norms of civil society.
Government wishes to reiterate its commitment to freedom of the press and will continue to ensure that the safest environment is created for all journalists and all media practitioners to operate without fear or any form of intimidation or danger.
Editor’s note: The accusations leveled against Kaieteur News cannot be further from the truth. This was the newspaper that every Government Minister wanted to be a part of. They prided themselves whenever they graced its pages to the point that if they were ignored, they called and protested. So much so for character assassination.
To suggest that the newspaper ignores injunctions is to accuse the courts of being ineffective and incompetent. Kaieteur News is fully aware of the law.
At no time has the newspaper ever questioned anything unless it was not in the best interest of the public. This is why it is the country’s largest selling newspaper.
We will respond fully to the accusations in another issue. Suffice it to say that the government has been targeting Kaieteur News because it has been the newspaper to expose the rampant corruption that has become the norm in Guyana.
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