The PPP is being hypocritical in defending its record of press freedom in the wake of this latest assault launched against Kaieteur News. The PPP has allowed a handful of elements and their cronies inside and outside of the government to further degrade the PPP’s commitment to press freedom.
That commitment has always been suspect. The PPP’s agenda has always been more about determining what the media published and broadcast than about allowing for greater diversity of views to be expressed.
Admittedly, the PPP has faced hostility from sections of the media, but that hostility has paled in comparison to the assault that the PPP launched against the independent media in Guyana, including both the Stabroek News and the Kaieteur News.
The PPP has been far more intolerant than the PNC towards the independent media. When it does not agree with what is published, it resorts to accusing the independent media of being in bed with the opposition parties. And especially during election period, the PPP develops paranoia towards sections of the media.
During the 2006 elections it accused the Stabroek News of siding with the AFC. As the campaign for elections for government came closer, the PPP did not place ads with that newspaper. It was illogical and stupid, because the best way to counter an opposition would be for the government to use that very medium where a dissenting view is published to counter that view.
After the 2006 elections, the hammer came down on both Stabroek News and CNS Channel 6. State ads were withheld from Stabroek News in a move which was interpreted as an attempt to stifle the newspaper and force it out of the market so as to benefit another newspaper closely aligned to certain PPP elements.
The PPP has proven itself no better than the PNC when it comes to press freedom. The PPP has exceeded the PNC in terms of its subversion of the State media, turning into an echo of the ruling party and seriously limiting balanced and fair reporting.
The PPP has matched the PNC in terms of using libel suits to muzzle free expression. Instead of liberalizing the media to widen ownership and participation, its liberalization has allowed for its cronies to gain a virtual monopoly on national coverage, while the regime window dresses its liberalization by allowing some persons to operate what amounts to village radio stations.
The duty to protect and promote free expression resides with the government. It is a negative obligation. It is for the government to refuse to do anything that hinders free expression and the freedom of the media. It matters not what sort of criticisms the government faces. It cannot, regardless of its own interpretation of the agendas that are at work, take a decision to go after the media in the way it has done against Kaieteur News.
State repression has been unleashed against Kaieteur News. First, the media was vilified on the political platforms of the PPP. The private sector was encouraged by a leader of the PPP to consider whether it should advertise within the Kaieteur News. There was discriminatory distribution of State ads to Kaieteur News. Surveillance cameras were placed on a building not far from Kaieteur News to monitor who was giving information to this newspaper.
For the first time ever in the history of the media in the Caribbean, the tax authorities were unleashed on the Kaieteur News and trumped up charges levied against the publisher and his wife. This is unprecedented in the history of the Caribbean. Then a journalist was advised that he should get out of the Kaieteur News because it was a dangerous place for him to be in.
The PPP has outdone the worst excesses of the PNC and yet it has the temerity to speak about its record of press freedom.
Behind this sustained conspiracy against the Kaieteur News are individuals from both inside and outside of the government. There is a clique that is behind these attacks on this newspaper.
The PPP has disgraced itself by allowing this clique to run roughshod over the media. But this disgrace is nothing compared to the one that the PPP has now attained by endorsing the actions of this clique against an independent media house.
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