The Board of the Guyana National Newspapers Limited- publishers of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle- on Tuesday emerged from a five-hour long meeting deeply divided on the decision to knock off two columnists who are highly critical of the coalition-led government, multiple sources confirmed.
Demerara Waves Online News was told that Directors Ruel Johnson, Bert Wilkinson, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley and Karen Davis supported the reinstatement of Political Science Professor, David Hinds and veteran trade unionist, Lincoln Lewis because “the credibility of the newspaper was at stake”.
In the end, by a majority vote of five, a decision was taken that Hinds and Lewis must not return in keeping with a decision communicated to them last week by Editor-in-Chief Nigel Williams. Sources said Wilkinson did not vote as he walked out of the meeting before the issue was officially put to the vote.
The other five board members, including Chairwoman of the Board, Geeta Chandan-Edmond, who last week said she would not support the violation of press freedom, backed to decision not to reinstate the columnists. Chandan-Edmond is a Ministry of the Presidency functionary and supporter of the Alliance For Change (AFC).
Other board members are Arron Fraser, Sherod Duncan, and Hilbert Foster.
Last week, the columnists were officially notified by Williams that their columns would no longer be published in the newspaper “following discussions at the highest level of the company in keeping with policy directions.” However, Chairman of the Board, Attorney-at-Law, Geeta Chandan-Edmond distanced herself and the board from the decision to remove the columnists from the newspapers.
Sources on Monday, however, said that the hiring and firing of columnists was in keeping with the Editor-in-Chief’s job description. Asked whether the newspaper was not worried that it was intolerant of dissenting views and criticisms, the source informed that “I don’t think we could walk back at this point,” the source said.
The source sought to justify the majority decision of the Board to back the Editor-in-Chief’s move against Hinds and Lewis by reiterating that the Guyana Chronicle was “re-branding” and “would like to focus on new areas which require specialist interventions at this time.”
Already, Hinds and Lewis- known as outspoken and critical supporters of the APNU+AFC coalition- have condemned the decision to remove them, saying that it amounts to political interference and continued intolerance by all political parties to criticism.
Hinds and Sarabo-Halley are executive members of the Working People’s Alliance which is a constituent party of the People’s National Congress Reform-dominated A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).
Wilkinson is a veteran independent journalist, Duncan and Johnson are AFC supporters. However, Johnson has maintained that the columnists should not have been removed.
Karen Davis is a long-time public affairs practitioner and university journalism lecturer.