In the light of a raging controversy about a Chronicle headline, I republish a conversation I had with Imran Khan, the Director of Information for the Office of the Prime Minister. It took place one night in June on the perimeter of the bridge of the AFC Head office. It was originally contained in a column last month
In fairness to the Prime Minister and Mr. Khan, I was given the opportunity by both of them to attend a meeting to look at the future shape of the state media. Other colleagues were invited. I told Khan that I could not bring myself to be part of a discussion with Mark Ramotar. I do not consider Ramotar a professional journalist. You can be forced to publish what your boss at the media house wants and still retain your professional credibility but what Ramotar did during the reign of the Jagdeo/Ramotar cabal was utterly despicable. Nothing like what Ramotar did was ever present at the Chronicle during the era of President Burnham.
I think the Prime Minister stumbled when he did not accept Ramotar’s resignation after the APNU-AFC administration took office. I would not attend a meeting in which Michael Gordon is present. You can question the moral values I choose to embrace but I have moral guidelines that inform my behaviour and decisions I make in life. Those guidelines will prevent me from accepting to be part of any circumstances in which Gordon is present. Gordon at NCN was the equivalent of Ramotar at the Chronicle
I told Khan that if I were the Editor of the Chronicle I would carry lead stories of the opposition. I stated that though it is a state-owned newspaper, the Chronicle has to carry front page (I emphasized lead stories) stories of opposition activities once those activities generate the interests of the Guyanese people. I can remember telling him that if Jagdeo goes to Berbice and is mobbed by ten thousand people, such news has to be a lead. The PPP won almost half the votes in the General Elections therefore the state which represents the people’s interests through the state media has to give coverage to the feelings of the population. This is where governments get confused over the role of the state media to the point where political analysts would question the very concept of the state media
Here is a quote from the August 27 editorial of the Chronicle that is bound to generate controversy; “Our newspaper is owned by the State, and is, therefore, expected to editorially support the general thrust of the government of the day. The Government then has a right to set out the broad parameters within which the paper operates.” The missing link in this assertion is who or what is the state. The state does not exist independently of the population. The state serves the population.
The Chronicle is a state organization that has to carry news that is in the interests of the population and what the population wants. The Chronicle does not serve and should not serve the interests of the government but the interest of the country. What happens then when the government becomes authoritarian? What happens then to a state owned newspaper? Does it continue to serve the state which has descended into semi-fascism as we have seen between 1999 and 2015? Whoever wrote that editorial should have learned the lessons of the PPP Government. Whoever wrote that editorial failed to make a distinction between publishing the news of the Government’s activities and the concept of serving the state. The PPP Government obfuscated that distinction.
The opposition won the 2011 election but did not get lead stories in the Chronicle because the PPP contended that the Chronicle served the state. APNU and the AFC did not operate in the state apparatus so the Chronicle ignored them. Irritatingly, the Chronicle editorial of August 27, 2015 repeats that mistake. To the writer of that Chronicle editorial, I would recommend two excellent books and we don’t have to go back centuries ago to the great philosophers.
One is from the 20th century; John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice,” (1971). The other from the 21st century; Amartya Sen, “The Idea of Justice,” ( 2009) Both books should help the editor of the Chronicle to understand the role of government in serving the people and the role justice plays in that service. The Chronicle should carry editorials that are scholarly critiques of the mistakes of the government. I will volunteer to do the first one on the prison- rails around Parliament and the second on the disappearance of the Ministry of Youth.
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