A fearsome-looking Doberman graces the front cover of the March 1996 edition of Guyana Review under the caption, ‘The media’s watchdog role.’ The leaders for that month deal with the media, the major one of which discusses the issues between a free press and the state in the context of David de Caires’s role in trying to broker a resolution in the impasse between the Trinidad Guardian and then Trinidadian Prime Minister Basdeo Panday. Among other things, the Review writes: “Prime Minister Panday and other regional Heads of Government need to be reminded as often as is necessary that media criticism of governments in the context of pursuit by the press of independent editorial policies, is part and parcel of the formula of democracy…”
The Guyana Review was founded by Mr David Granger in one of his incarnations before he became head of state, and was edited by him alone for several years.
What a difference four-and-a-half years in power makes. Now as president Mr Granger has added a qualification to his earlier view that democracy entails the “pursuit by the press of independent editorial policies,” in so far as the award of state advertisements to the media is concerned. “There must be fairness,” he told Kaieteur Radio in an interview. “We believe that advertisements should be directed to the media houses based on their willingness to disseminate news fairly.”
Somewhat contradictorily perhaps, he also said that he did not support the “withholding of advertisements. All media houses must have access to state ads since it is a state resource.” Exactly how this was to be interpreted in the light of his earlier remarks was not immediately apparent, more particularly since as we reported, Stabroek News received no state ads for the month of October whatsoever.
As far as could be divined, however, he may have attempted to hinge his reconciliation of the two positions on what he described as a “commercial dispute” between the DPI and this newspaper. When it is settled, he said, “it will return to normal.” If he is seeking consistency one would have to presume that by this he meant ads would not be withdrawn completely, but their quantum would be apportioned according to a ‘fairness’ principle.
Considering that in the course of reportage on several occasions we have explained that the commercial issue was settled a while ago, Mr Granger’s assertion is puzzling. He was careful, however, to explain to his interviewer that he had not investigated the matter. In the light of our statements on the ‘dispute’ for which we can furnish proof, one can only ask, why ever not? If President Granger has forgotten his earlier incarnation as a journalist, perhaps he should revive another one he also evinced at one time, namely that of a historian, and inquire into the claims of the DPI, which is guilty of misrepresentation.
Having dispensed with that, the Head of State moved quickly to accuse Stabroek News of bias, and cite what he regarded as an example of a failure to report an “important national event”. He said: “We need to have journalists, we need to have media houses which are fair. I do not believe it is the right of any editor or of any media house to deliberately not report on public events out of bias.”
The allegation in relation to the specific example President Granger gave has already been addressed both in our report on his remarks and in an editor’s note appended to a letter to the editor, but in a general sense one can only wonder whether he has been reading this newspaper very carefully at all. We routinely give coverage to national events, including those involving the President himself, something to which any casual reader could attest. Furthermore, in an instance where Mr Granger finds an item he wanted published has not been printed, it does not mean that bias has informed the newspaper’s decision. There are various factors which determine whether or not a piece appears, not the least of which is newsworthiness.
The President’s problem is not that Stabroek News is derelict in regard to its reporting duties, but rather, that we have given “forthright reportage on the government in the aftermath of the December 21st, 2018 vote of no confidence against it in Parliament.” It is for this that we are clearly being punished.
Certainly the Head of State and his government have had a good record on press freedom until recently, certainly better than that of the PPP/C; however, criticism of their attempts to evade the consequences of the no-confidence vote have struck an altogether rawer nerve. It has brought the government into the international spotlight in a way that is very disadvantageous to them, and has opened the President himself to comparisons to an earlier, less democratic era.
In 1996 the Guyana Review, which it has to be said contained one minor criticism of Stabroek News, nevertheless wrote in its leader: “Given the long history of official muzzling of the media in Guyana and current evidence of government distaste for strident criticism, journalists and media institutions run an extraordinary risk by neglecting to enhance their respective rule-setting roles in state/media relations. Hopefully, the Panday/Guardian incident is a sobering reminder to Guyanese journalists that they can be considered true professionals only when their independence is guaranteed and beyond official sanction.”
Now that Mr Granger sits on the side of the state, does he still believe what he published in 1996?