Perilous times for Guyana free press
Story Created: Nov 1, 2014 at 10:13 PM ECT
Once again in Guyana, relations between a private media house and the ruling administration have hit rock bottom, or lower. And once again, regional voices must be raised to register concern about the persistence of entrenched negative predispositions in official quarters against the free and independent media in Guyana.
In line with a policy tradition common to both parties which have formed the government, print and broadcast entities owned, operated and controlled by the State have continued to be fixtures of the media landscape. It’s against this background that Guyanese private interests have invested in making real and vibrant a diversity of media voices, giving effect to freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution of the republic and related international conventions.
The ruling administration has not hesitated to utilise State media in advancing its political “line” and policy emphases, and alternately to reply to criticism. The operations of privately owned media legitimately to challenge official pronouncements, to question and to investigate have proved to be risky and costly.
Stabroek News, privately owned, had suffered extended state advertising boycotts as punishment for publication of news and opinion deemed unfavorable to the Government. Stabroek News, having heroically come into existence amid the harsher scorched-earth policies against private media enforced by the former Forbes Burham regime, bounced back.
Disingenuously, the government placed its ads with the other privately owned daily, Kaieteur News, justifying the decision on alleged economic grounds. Now, it’s the turn of Kaieteur News, to be targeted with rhetorical and other attacks by the government. Publisher Glen Lall has been facing prosecution on tax-related charges. Such matters should duly and properly be settled before the Guyana courts.
But meanwhile, Mr Lall and his newspaper have found reason to believe in the existence of no-holds-barred antipathy in government circles, especially connected with the Attorney General. Kaieteur News took the extraordinary step of releasing the recording of a private conversation between a Kaieteur News reporter and the Guyana Attorney General.
In the recording, the AG was heard issuing dire warnings of what sounded like impending physical retaliation against the newspaper. The AG also urged the reporter to quit the paper ahead of such attacks.
Kaieteur News, in 2006, underwent the horrific experience of the multiple murder on its plant one evening of its pressroom staff. The paper survived that hit, to the extent of never ceasing publication.
Understandably, now, however, Kaieteur takes seriously any threatening noises by the AG suggestive of physical harm threatened to its premises and personnel. Now that such apparent threats have been made public, President Donald Ramotar’s government should go beyond denouncing the secret taping. The region waits to hear him make clear his total repudiation of violent attacks, threatened or planned, against Kaieteur News.