Monday, July 14, 2008

Kaieteur News. Monday July 14, 2008 | Editorial

Kaieteur News. Monday July 14, 2008 | Editorial
You can’t blow out a fire

You can blow out a candle
But you can’t blow out a fire.
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher
- Peter Gabriel, Biko

It has been said that genuine news is something somebody somewhere doesn’t want you to know: everything else is just PR. In our reporting of the news over the decade and a half that we have been in existence, we have come to appreciate the truth of that aphorism.

There is hardly a day that goes by when we do not receive a call from some individual or organisation complaining that a report of ours had embarrassed them. But, as a newspaper, we hold it as our sacred duty, in the common parlance, to “call it as we see it.”

We have always known that, by taking this approach, and refusing to be a PR vehicle for any entrenched interest, there were risks involved – from governments, political parties, corporations or assorted “shady characters”.

And we have paid the price. We only have to mention the fire that gutted our press and the massacre of five of our pressmen: many have told us that these brutal incidents were precipitated because we’re seen as “pro-government”.

Today, the wind – a very powerful wind – is blowing from another direction, and once again it is simply because we have stood firmly by our credo to report the news and just the news. But, as the song quoted above about the South African freedom fighter Stephen Biko proclaimed, the wind will only serve to enlarge the flame of our resolution to stick to the responsibilities that go with the credo: freedom of the press.

But let us make this clear – we are not saying that Guyana does not have freedom of the press. If this were not so, then we would not see the lampooning and skewering of some of the “big ones”.

But what we detect is a gradual tightening of the screws in insidious ways against those who insist on maintaining an independent viewpoint. And this is a very slippery slope.

A former President of ours, who knew a thing or two about muzzling the press, once famously remarked that there are many ways to skin a cat, and he graphically went on to illustrate the gravamen of his remark: you can give it mange; you can wring its neck, or you could skin it etc.

Today the abuse of administrative procedures is deployed to harass those who hold a different viewpoint than the powers that be. We are also witnessing the creation and support of new medium to guarantee that only PR brochures will be transmitted to the people. Coupled with the harassment of other media, one has to ask, “Where are we? At the mange stage?”

We want to remind those who appear to have forgotten that the free press was born as part and parcel of the modern flowering of democracy. From all the evidence, it does not appear that the latter can take root and survive without the former.

Power, and its inevitable corrupting effect on those who are voted into office, demands that the people, in whose hands ultimate sovereignty lie, must be given adequate information to make informed decisions. This is what will make those decisions “democratic”.

In 1993, the United Nations gave recognition to the pivotal role of a free press in the sustenance of good governance by declaring every May 3rd as “World Press Freedom Day”.

It is in that same month that we also celebrate our independence from the yoke of foreign rule. But if our people are denied the multiplicity of views that is the hallmark of a vibrant democracy then we are dooming them to a more invidious yoke of oppression from the vacuum of information that would stifle their minds.

We understand that with all freedoms, including freedom of the press, come responsibility: freedom of the press does not mean license. There are laws on the books to prosecute those who violate that freedom.

If there is anything that we have printed that is not factual, then we ask those who are affected to bring this to our attention and we will offer our unqualified apology or face the legal consequences. Otherwise, let us do our duty to inform the people. It is the truth that will set us all free.

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