For a long time these words of Hannah Arendt has stood as the foundation of the free press “The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.”
On March 6th 2007 the Stabroek News published a letter from Rev. Gideon Cecil accusing President Jagdeo, who having signed the declaration of Chapultepec in 2004, was violating its principles by victimising the Stabroek News by withdrawing state advertising thus offending article 7 of the Declaration.
In a commentary on June 1st 2011 I did the same thing, and accused Mr. Jagdeo of offending the very declaration he signed on to in 2004. Now we see that the other side, which was so critical of Mr. Jagdeo then, is doing exactly the same thing now, with the President himself offending the Declaration of Chapultepec by informing the public that unless the reportage from Stabroek News is more fair, he has a right to withdraw government advertising from them.
Well I am sorry to say that he has no such right. If what the paper is saying is seditious or libelous, the Government should seek legal recourse in a court of law. If it is merely being critical it’s not an offence, what would be an offence would be to refuse to publish a response from the accused.
I am not a hypocrite, so I won’t say that it is wrong for Mr. Jagdeo to do it, but not Mr. Granger. Whenever a country signs on to these Treaties and Covenants, they are obligated legally and morally to ensure that their principles are enforced in their Territory and Jurisdiction.
The international court of human rights has already ruled in the matter “Freedom of expression is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Without this there can be no democratic society”
The 10 Principles of the Declaration of Chapultepec are as follows:
1. No people or society can be free without freedom of expression and of the press. The exercise of this right is not something authorities grant, it is an inalienable right of the people.
2. Every person has the right to seek and receive information, express opinions and disseminate them freely. No one may restrict or deny them these rights.
3. The authorities must be compelled by law to make available in a timely and reasonable manner the information generated by the public sector. No journalist may be forced to reveal his or her sources of information.
4. Freedom of expression and of the press are severely limited by murder, terrorism, kidnapping, intimidation, the unjust imprisonment of journalists, the destruction of facilities, violence of any kind and impunity for perpetrators. Such must be investigated promptly and punished harshly.
5. Prior censorship, restrictions on the circulation of the media or dissemination of their reports, forced publication of information, the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of news, and restrictions on the activities and movements of journalists directly contradict freedom of the press.
6. The media and journalists should neither be discriminated against nor favoured because of what they write or say.
7. Tariff and exchange policies, licenses for the importation of paper or news-gathering equipment, the assigning of radio and television frequencies and the granting or withdrawal of government advertising may not be used to reward or punish the media or individual journalists.
8. The membership of journalists in guilds, their affiliation to professional and trade associations and the affiliation of the media with business groups must be strictly voluntary.
9. The credibility of the press is linked to its commitment to truth, to the pursuit of accuracy, fairness and objectivity and to the clear distinction between news and advertising. The attainment of these goals and the respect for ethical and professional values may not be imposed. These are the exclusive responsibility of journalists and the media. In a free society, it is public opinion that rewards or punishes.
10. No news medium nor journalist may be punished for publishing the truth or criticizing or denouncing the government.
“Without freedom there can be no true order, stability and justice. And without freedom of expression there can be no freedom”- Thomas Jefferson.
In his letter the Reverend also wrote, “Freedom of expression and the seeking, dissemination and collection of information can be exercised only if freedom of the press exists”.
How free is our press in Guyana? None of my letters were published by the Guyana Chronicle in months because it’s a state-owned paper that does not promote freedom of expression against the government. A free press enables societies to resolve their conflicts, promote their well-being and protect their liberty. No law or act of government may limit freedom of expression or of the press, whatever the medium. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to information are individual rights, which belong to all individuals, community and society. The violation of freedom of expression and of the press is a violation of democracy, the framework for provision of human rights.
I held the view then and still hold it now, that the state-run television and radio stations and the state-run newspaper are violating our constitution, since there is an equality clause in our constitution now and these entities are competing unfairly [unequally] with private enterprises, whilst at the same time being given direct and indirect support from the consoled fund by Government which establishes a gross inequity. They all criticise it when they are in opposition but embrace it when they are in power. The ultimate hypocrisy.
In the current situation article 9 is most appropriate, “The credibility of the press is linked to its commitment to truth, to the pursuit of accuracy, fairness and objectivity and to the clear distinction between news and advertising. The attainment of these goals and the respect for ethical and professional values may not be imposed. These are the exclusive responsibility of journalists and the media. In a free society, it is public opinion that rewards or punishes”.
It’s really clear, clearer than 34 is not the majority of 65, that the fairness must be imposed not by the state attempting to silence the media by using punitive economic actions, it is the people through their public opinion who must reward or punish.
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