“The Government, much less the editor, has no right to set a policy for The Chronicle that does not uphold journalistic principles, but instead emphasizes partisan political considerations.”- Ramkarran
“Having regard to the Chronicle’s confusion about its role, about journalistic principles…the time has come for the Government to establish a truly independent Commission of respected citizens with the relevant experience to advise on the Editorial policies of the State-owned media.” So said Former Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran in his most recent column published online.
In that column, the veteran politician zeroed in on the recently publicized issue of censorship in the State newspaper—The Guyana Chronicle. The issue came to the fore when news broke that the newspaper refused to carry a column done by David Hinds which was critical of the government’s handling of the report of the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry.
Ramkarran is saying that this is unacceptable and that the State newspaper has experienced censorship for way too long. This should not be allowed to continue, said Ramkarran.
He wrote that it takes a certain mindset for a person to believe that he or she has the right to determine what information citizens of Guyana should receive. “Inculcated among some media practitioners and political operatives during the 1970s and 1980s, and pursued with vigour and venom between 2001 and 2015, this mindset is clearly alive and well in Guyana.”
Ramkarran said that state-owned media has long been seen as a party asset to be utilized for the benefit of the Government and Party in office.
He said that given the opportunity to reject censorship, the Guyana Chronicle did the opposite. And, in justifying its failure to publish its own columnist, Dr. David Hinds, because it did not agree with the views he expressed on two occasions, Chronicle embarked on a paean to censorship in its Editorial of April 20 entitled “The state newspaper.”
The former Speaker quoted the Editorial which said, “This newspaper is an arm of the state and will give primacy to the government’s agenda.” With that statement highlighted, Ramkarran asked, “How is this different to the policy of the Chronicle during the eras mentioned above? The Chronicle is not an arm of the State. The State is merely a trustee of its owners who are the people of Guyana. I am a part owner of the Chronicle.”
Ramkarran further quoted the Editorial which said that “Editorial judgment needs to be exercised based on the need to enforce the newspaper’s policies and propriety in the society.”
He said that Chronicle supported censorship when it said that “in our fractured society, the state media has a duty of welding the people together.”
Ramkarran said that a state employed journalist in 1979 or 2006 could not have put this mouthful better.
He then wrote that “Censorship in a ‘fractured society’ if the ‘reality’ of its masters is challenged, as justified by the Chronicle, perpetuates the fracture, rather than heals it.”
The former Speaker wrote that with the expression of these Editorial views, “no one should doubt that just as the Chronicle made some effort to improve for a brief period beginning in 1992, but then degenerated in the 2000s to a level equivalent to what it was in the 1970s and 1980s, or worse, the efforts it has recently made will soon degenerate once again, unless something is done to root out the mindset that believes that censorship is permissible and justified.”
Ramkarran said, “The Government, much less the Editor, has no right to set a policy for The Chronicle that does not uphold journalistic principles, but instead emphasizes partisan political considerations.”
He added that the policies of the State-owned media should be self-evident, to wit, embracing critical examination of and support for or criticism of Government policies, the uncensored publication of the views of independent columnists, supportive of the Government or not, Opposition’s views and those supportive of the Opposition.
No doubt, Ramkarran highlighted, Editorial judgment will be exercised in relation to material which is defamatory, objectionable or offensive or which, for other legitimate journalistic reasons, cannot be published. However, the former PPP Stalwart said that it is the height of arrogance for The Chronicle to arrogate to itself the “duty of welding people together” or being an arbiter on views of the past.
He made it clear, “The Chronicle’s duty is to bring the news, advocate its own views editorially and provide a forum for the people of Guyana to express their views provided those views are not defamatory, advocate illegality or is otherwise offensive. The policy adopted by the Chronicle led it to the censoring of David Hinds. How far down the slippery slope will it lead? I say right to the bottom. Once the sliding starts, it would not stop.”
According to Ramkarran, there are people at The Chronicle who are responsible for determining policy, who do not subscribe to censorship and would support an independent, respected, State-owned newspaper. He said that he hopes that those persons will take the cue from President David Granger who said that “criticism is good” and that he has “privately and publicly maintained the importance of a free press.”
Ramkarran pointed out that President Granger called on the media to truthfully and critically examine the work of the administration so as to help the government to improve its performance.
Ramkarran said that while Granger did not address the Hinds issue directly, “the broad outline of the President’s views suggests that he would be intolerant of censoring.”
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