Saturday, June 11, 2011

The PNC were the architects that suppressed Guyanese freedom of expression for decades-Harry Gill

Father Bernard Darke was stabbed by PNC thugs
whilst taking pictures on Brickdam

Harry Gill: In Kaieteur News (June 9), Mr. Mark Archer wrote a lengthy piece on media blackout and accuses the two independent dailies: Kaieteur News and Stabroek News, of failing to publish on two occasions, news releases of the PNCR Presidential Candidate’s travel itinerary, excerpts from the speeches he made, and his interactions with Guyanese groups in the Diaspora.
In his letter: “This is the worst suppression of information that I have witnessed since Guyana became independent”, Mr. Archer insinuates that racism is the root cause of this “media blackout” and says it would be easy for him to play the race card, but “I will refrain from doing so.”
Yet he goes on to contradict himself by adding, “… there are rumours circulating that the owners of the Kaieteur News and Stabroek News have political and/or family relationships which make them sympathetic to the ruling party”.
The last time I checked, both Glenn Lall, owner of Kaieteur News and Anand Persaud, editor of Stabroek News are Guyanese of Indian descent, and so too is the PPP/C Presidential Candidate Donald Ramotar. If this is not playing the race card, I must be a moron living on Mars.
Mark Archer’s accusation of “media blackout” is preposterous. And to reiterate what I’ve written before, the PNC were the architects that suppressed Guyanese freedom of expression for decades.
Soon after Independence in 1966, the National Security Act was passed by the ruling PNC Government. This law was very repressive, and it gave the government authority to suspend the right of habeas corpus and to restrict and detain anyone without trial for an indefinite period. In 1973, this law was strengthened to provide for preventive detention and restriction of movement of persons, control of firearms and ammunition, powers of search without warrants, and increased police powers. Under this law, the PNC Government were given the power to impose “censorship and the control and suppression of publications, writings, maps, plans, photographs, communications and means of communication”, and to confiscate property.
The PNC Government used the protection of this law to subvert the army, police and judiciary, to crush political opponents. Police harassment was common, and thugs associated with the PNC and its youth arm, the Young Socialist Movement (YSM), violently broke up public meetings of opposition political parties.
Freedom of expression was severely suppressed under the PNC. In 1972, the importation of newsprint, book binding machinery and printing equipment was strictly controlled by the PNC government, who used the shortage of foreign exchange at the time to justify these restrictions.
The Mirror, organ of the PPP suffered immensely as a result, so did The Catholic Standard, weekly publication of the Catholic Church. And so, it was the PNC who denied the voice of the people from being heard, by effectively muzzling any opposition to that regime for many years after Guyana attained its Independence in 1966. Perhaps Mark Archer was living on Jupiter during that time.
Every day the newspapers are mostly filled with reports of murder, theft, suicide, rape, child abuse, drug arrests, fatal accidents, flooding, and exposing government corruption and misdeeds. And these are news that are worthy of publication in any media. Given the fact that both Kaieteur News and Stabroek News depend entirely on selling advertising space to cover the cost of publication, equipment, maintenance, rent/mortgage, and salaries for staff, there is usually a 60:40 ratio that dictates the volume of information and advertising material that goes in to the newspaper.
The voters in Guyana are more politically astute than ever before, and they will make an informed decision at the appropriate time later this year. What Mark Archer really wants though, is for the independent media to become the mouthpiece of the opposition. But being critical of failed government policies, does not automatically translate to a willingness to carry the opposition propaganda. Already the opposition have Freddie Kissoon doing most of their dirty work. This columnist uses valuable space in Kaieteur News to bash the Jagdeo Administration relentlessly, almost on a daily basis, and neither Mr. Archer nor members of the opposition complain about his obvious bias, because Kissoon serves their purpose very well indeed.
Objective reporting is very important to the survival of the print media, and I believe the political coverage in both independent media is fair and balanced. This is evident from the recent coverage of Donald Ramotar’s meeting in New York, which was limited to the protestors and Dr. Randy Persaud’s embarrassing arrest by the NYPD.
But if David Granger wants to promote his itinerary and gain political mileage, he can use the PNCR campaign funds to purchase full page newspaper inserts to educate the electorate and motivate his political base. Then he will be able to control all the information and photographs he wants published.
Or he can resurrect the New Nation, the old PNC propaganda newspaper, and use this medium to get his message out.
Problem is, no other publication has the circulation, readership and credibility like the two independent dailies, and I’m sure they would want to keep it that way.

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