OPINION: Press Freedom in Guyana: Western diplomats rip local politicians, read riot act

Last Updated on Wednesday, 3 May 2023, 7:27 by Denis Chabrol

By GHK Lall

Press Freedom in Guyana: Western diplomats rip local politicians, read riot actAny doubts as to what prevails in Guyana relative to the condition of the press should now be fully dispelled.  This is what is made crystal clear by the joint statement from top resident Western diplomats, with America’s Ambassador, Excellency Sarah Ann Lynch leading the way, and throwing down the gauntlet in the face of all politicians and political groups in Guyana (“Western nations call for key ingredients for press freedom in Guyana” -Demerara Waves, May 3).  Though the joint release has all the nuance and tact of diplomatic expression, it is still scorching.  To the layman, it may come across as cool and subdued, but what is embedded in the statement, and how it is articulated, conveys the consternations of the extended Western diplomatic community on the tense and distressing reality of the local press in Guyana.  There can be no mistaking the ‘grave concern’ (to use a muted diplomatic term that relays significant alarm) of ABC&E countries.

For this diplomatic thrust to be issued on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day says it all.  I conclude that it is the equivalent of the white gloves taken off, and being used to slap the PPP Government and its leaders across the face.  Both gloves and on both cheeks of those targeting, intimidating, abusing, vilifying, and pursuing every opportunity either to muzzle the independent press, or to bend it to the will of a supersensitive and insecure government and its ranking people.  If I were President Ali, I would be ashamed.  If I were the former President, I would take note, and sense the urgent warning.

Indeed, the joint statement is broad, but it is loaded with what should be.  I interpret that to be a subtle message in the sharpest diplomatic words of what is happening in Guyana, what is abjectly lacking, and what this does to the Guyanese press and wider environments.  In total, it is that Guyana is worse off for the political depredations that have been the experience of the local press, and without it being specifically written or said at the hands of an increasingly coercive, vindictive, and vicious PPP Government.

When the Western diplomatic presence in Guyana sees it fit to state: “media freedom allows for transparency an accountability”, it can be said that there are gaps in that freedom.  And, when the corps finds it imperative to table most unequivocally and pointedly, “Media workers should not be restricted nor have to work under unnecessary duress or risk to their safety in order to have access to information. They should not face abuse, threats, intimidation or personal attacks in the execution of their duties…”  then matters have severely deteriorated locally.

It means that the watching Western diplomatic community is alarmed at what has been unleashed at sections of the media, and obscenely at media professionals.  As has happened in the past, and again very recently, “restrictions” and “duress” and “safety” concerns have all surfaced again, gain strength daily.  Three press professionals (Ms. Bagot, Ms. Raghubir, and Ms. Garnett) have been the victims of appalling venom and vituperation of an extremely vulgar variety.  Though the PPP Government has been the leading spear carrier and bomb thrower with the malice and venom, the PNC has also shown itself to relish sinking into the gutter of sniping, wounding, and damaging.  Every Guyanese of conscience and principle would agree that this is what is the now almost chronic state relative to parts of the press in Guyana.  It is to the detriment of the education, information, and well-being of the Guyanese people.

No less tellingly is this extract: “nor should they be expected to align with any specific idea, person, entity or political party, whether directly or anonymously” and “it is important that employees of the media are protected and are able to carry out their duties without fear.”  In other words, what both His Excellency and the Hon. Vice President have been overseeing, even practicing, is not looked upon favorably.  Further, that the latter’s cultivating of friendly and helpful media entities and individuals who either give him a clear road, or lob softballs at him so that he can smash happily, is looked upon with the deepest misgivings.

If there were any residual arguments in favor of what mostly the PPP Government (and to a lesser extent the PNC) has inflicted on the independent Guyanese press, then there was this kicker and closer” “We discourage the practice of selectiveness in granting access to information or to public officials under the guise of media bias.”  I place before my fellow citizens this simple inquiry: if there is nothing to “discourage” in this record, then why even bring it up at all?  The Western diplomatic contingent is more than mildly uneasy; I think that it is very disturbed at what has been meted out to the press in Guyana.  The section that does not toe the PPP Government’s line, that does not endorse the PPP leadership gimmickries, that does not ask the kind of questions that delight, that does not report what it wants to hear or read.

But the Westerners were not done yet, they had this one last salvo to deliver.  “We thank all journalists for their hard work, sacrifice, and service to society…”  I think that this encircled the courageous media professionals at Stabroek News, Kaieteur News, and Demerara Waves, and the Guyana Press Association, particularly the ones attacked.  The PPP Government, its leadership, and the PNC Opposition also, have all bene served notice.  The language could not be clearer, the anxieties higher, and the cautions more candid.  When the press is neutralized, then the last bastion has crumbled, with nothing left standing.