Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram
The government of Guyana and editor of state owned Chronicle newspaper is reprimanded for terminating the columns of two prominent Africans. But when Indian columnists were terminated and with Indians being marginalized since 2015 in state media, there has been silence from those champions of the free press. Isn’t that hypocrisy!
The government has been rightly chided over the firing of (Chronicle) David Hinds and Lincoln Lewis for their occasional critiques of coalition government. The two writers themselves have also lambasted the government for terminating their columns. I join in the chorus; government must not censor views in the media even if it owns and controls it. We all must be concerned when the editor of a paper or the government hinders free speech critical of government’s policy. This action against Hinds and Lewis stokes of vindictiveness and of wanting to silence critics. It is reminiscent of the bad old days of Burnhamism when dissent was not tolerated and critics disappeared never to be seen or heard from again.
However, there is hypocrisy in the condemnation of the government and the editor in chief of Chronicle over the termination of the two columnists who also happen to be government supporters. It is noted that those of us who are critical of the government have their letters blocked from Chronicle. Also, letters pertaining to events and issues on Indians and Amerindians are rarely published in Chronicle. I sent dozens of articles to Chronicle; none was published. Compare that with Guyana Times or Stabroek News that give equal coverage to all groups. It seems that those critical of the firing of Hinds and Lewis show they care little about the principles of tolerance and free speech and racial balance in the media. They contemptuously disapprove of the views of others who were previously fired by the Chronicle but champion free press now. They don’t fight for equal coverage for the varied racial groups. Isn’t that the epitome of hypocrisy?
Those critical of the regime are more interested in the persons than in the principle of free speech. When other columnists, including the eminent Rickey Singh (dean of journalism in the Caribbean), from the Chronicle were terminated because of their independence of commentaries, neither Mr. Lewis nor Mr. Mr. Hinds reprimanded the government for its anti-free press action. Ironically, Lewis and Hinds replaced independent minded columnists. And those who now condemn the Chronicle and the government on the Hinds/Lewis matter also did not utter a word against the government or the Chronicle management for discontinuing those other columnists. They only now find their voice in support of the free media when one of their own is affected. I wonder why! I also note that Chronicle has had eight columnists since the coalition government took office and all of them are from the same ethnicity. No one ever condemn this racial bias. Compare that with Stabroek News or Guyana Times whose columnists have represented the ethnic and gender diversity of the population.
It is noted that the state owned media in the US, Britain, Canada, India, etc. are very democratic representing all views, particularly those critical of the government. They give equal time to the opposition and the government as well as to the public – which has not been happening in Guyana in the state owned media.
In Guyana, we have lived in a society where public officials don’t like to be critiqued (criticized) even when they commit the most egregious acts violating laws and norms. They are not different from the slave and indentured massas of yesteryear who they had attacked. The colonial rulers did not tolerate critiques or criticism of any type, and it has not been much different under the local successors. In fact, Guyanese would swear, that in many ways, censorship and silencing of views or critics is worse today than under “the White man”. Ironically, local politicians under colonial times would condemn the very behavior they now practiced when it comes to the press and style of governance.
Government officials need to be on notice that they can’t censor or discourage comments they don’t like. Some in the opposition and even in the so-called independent media also silence critical views. Comments in the media should be allowed unless they are hateful or incendiary or hyper partisan or degrading language like what is peddled by a few columnists in another newspaper.
Suppression of free speech must never be tolerated again not even in the private media. And yes free speech is not allowed in all of the non-government owned papers. We are reminded that independent views were not tolerated in Guyana post-independence until 1987 with the launch of SN. Free speech is central to any democracy. It is a hallmark of an open democratic society. It is a value universally held in democratic countries Government should encourage more critiques in the media on their governance. They should not shut down commentators for being critical of their behavior or policy.