The Guyana Government last week issued a public statement in which it trumpeted its track record on the
promotion of press freedom.
But in its pronouncement, it conveniently ignored its own deliberate and perpetual stranglehold over the media landscape and its record of excesses against the independent media in Guyana.
According to the government, under its watch, more than 20 television stations were established. The Government did not however acknowledge that for almost two decades it deliberately restricted all from expanding their signals beyond the confined boundaries assigned them.
This effectively made them “village TVs”. The Government also did not tell the nation that it was only after the former President Jagdeo’s best friend, Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, bought Vieira Communications (Channel 28), that the government turned a blind eye to the station which broke all the rules and laws.
It allowed Ramroop’s station, rebranded TVG, to extend its signal countywide, thus enjoying advantages over existing stations.
Even more prohibitive was the decision to impose a draconian broadcast fee of $2.5M per annum on existing TV broadcasters, a move seen as designed to shut them all down.
Government boasted, too, that under its rule, two privately owned daily newspapers—Kaieteur News and Guyana Times—were established.
What the government did not say, however, was that in an attempt to shut down the only two privately-owned newspapers, it deliberately withheld state advertisements from the Stabroek News for almost two years and later the Kaieteur News.
What it also never mentioned was that during the first ten years of the existence of Kaieteur News there were no State ads offered to this newspaper.
As soon as Ramroop established Guyana Times, the Government conveniently returned State ads to the private newspapers. That move paved the way for the government to pump millions of tax dollars into Guyana Times via the state ads. This was cronyism at its finest.
The government in its recent statement equally omitted to mention that no sooner were State ads distributed to the Guyana Times, than a pattern emerged of disproportionate allocation of these ads.
The Guyana Times, with a minuscule circulation, suddenly began receiving more State ads than the Kaieteur News and Stabroek News. This was a naked and shameless attempt by the Government to boost the Guyana Times while at the same time stifle the other independent dailies by limiting the State ads.
Last week’s statement by the Government also boasted that the radio spectrum was liberalized and that currently there are in operation 13 radio stations, 11 of which are privately owned, with operations evenly spread right across the country.
Government however failed to tell the Guyanese nation that these radio licences were secretly and selectively handed out under discriminatory circumstances. Most glaring was the fact that of the radio licences issued, five frequencies were allocated to Jagdeo’s best friend, Ramroop.
Another five frequencies were handed to the United States-based sister of a sitting Government Minister, Robert Persaud. Another five frequencies were issued to the People’s Progressive Party. This meant that these three operators enjoyed countrywide reach.
The other licences issued were for single frequencies, thus effectively making them “village radio stations”. The main media houses, both television and newspapers were bluntly denied licences.
National coverage was thus monopolized by the State and the cronies and friends of the Government and ruling party. This is not liberalization. This is monopoly domination.
The government in its statement boasted, too, that it does not in any form or fashion muzzle or interfere with press outfits, and that journalists attached to these media entities have equal and ready access to all members of government and indeed, to every public officer.
The government seems to have selective amnesia. It has forgotten the numerous attempts by this newspaper to solicit information on the controversial deals entered into by the government. These attempts to obtain information on these deals were met with stony silence.
What the Government equally forgot was that it was under the PPPC that the former President banned reporters from covering official State functions. It also restricted access by others to press conferences. One columnist has also been sued for libel.
While the government did concede that several of its officials have instituted lawsuits against Kaieteur News, it does not view this as a weapon used to gag this publication from publishing matters of public interest.
A flood of lawsuits have been filed against this newspaper. But the plot against the Kaieteur News did not end with lawsuits. Recently leaked emails revealed a plot to use State agencies to target the Kaieteur News and to have its publisher jailed for a long time.
The plot thickened when dire warnings were sounded about an imminent armed assault against this newspaper. A staff member of Kaieteur News was urged to remove himself from the offices of Kaieteur News and to “read between the lines”.
The State media, controlled by the government, is itself no paragon of fairness and balance. The opposition parties have refused to approve budgetary funding for the State media because of what is deemed biased reporting and the limited access it affords them.
The State media is often used as a tool to target enemies of the government and to launch ad hominem attacks against the Kaieteur News publisher and editor.
The Government of Guyana has the redoubtable record of being condemned by both international and regional media bodies for its actions against the local media. In therefore relishing the fact that it is a signatory to almost every major international agreement and convention which canvas, promote and protect individual rights and civil liberties, the government overlooks the constant condemnation it attracts for breaching these very international agreements.
The Guyana Government lashed out at Kaieteur News saying that over the years, the newspaper 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 publisher challenges the government to report one instance of fabrication, distortion, and character assassination.
Nothing could be further from the truth. What irks the Government is not unprofessional and unethical journalism. What bothers the Government is not fabrication, distortions and character assassination.
If this were the case Kaieteur News would not be the country’s largest selling newspaper. At the heart of the Government’s discontent is the exposure by Kaieteur News of the skullduggery and wrongdoing.
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