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In relation to media freedom, the 2020 US State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Guyana states that, ‘Independent media were active and at times expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The ruling party’s monopoly of state media creates an imbalance in public discourse and tends to give them a public affairs advantage, since the opposition does not have an outlet of its own.’
That the private media in Guyana has been in favour of the current regime is not difficult to discern, but recently I have detected an upsurge of anti-government utterances – a few quite outlandish – that may have been, among other things, the result of the above comment. However, for us to properly understand what has been taking place, we need to differentiate between substantive and procedural/technical criticisms. The first deals with those issues that question the nature and very existence of the state while the second is less consequential and usually focuses upon policy implementation.
Even at a general level this categorisation is useful for a proper understanding of decision-making in many institutions. For example, at elections time, to great applause politicians would attempt to impress by claiming that they have fulfilled 99% of their manifesto promises, but in many cases it is the 1% that remains unfulfilled that contains most of the important issues. Should we define a judiciary as independent if 99% of its decisions are unbiased but the 1% that is questionable contains most of the important issues having to do with the nature and/or existence of the regime?
Most media criticisms are likely to be about procedural issues but the contention here is that the private media in Guyana deliberately excludes in-depth discussion of the most substantive issues having to do with the nature of the current regime. For example, hundreds of column inches have been taken up in criticising the regime around issues having to do with the gas to shore project, the conflicts of interest at Guyoil and GPL, perceived corruption, etc. This is normally good for political accountability but because of the ethnic nature of political alliances in countries like Guyana such criticisms do not have significant political effects. While regime corruption could be lethal in countries such as Barbados or Jamaica that have homogeneous populations and substantial swing votes, politicians in Guyana could largely ignore such utterances knowing full well that they will not significantly affect their political support. (I have many times before acknowledged the small ethnic shift that is taking place and efforts to negate it by elections manipulation).
On the other hand, the private media regularly harangue us about the importance of democracy but do not properly deal with substantive issues having to do with democracy as it relates to the nature of the regime or the context that brought it to office. During the 2020 elections process the Guyana Elections Commission claimed to have detected and, to a limited degree, substantiated many discrepancies, but have we heard sustained demands in the private media that these be properly investigated and debunked or confirmed? Certainly, if they remain unresolved, such allegations undermine the legitimacy of the political process and negatively affect nation building. Then again, the international community has been the darling of the media during the 2020 elections quarrels. It is well established that a clean electoral list acceptable to all stakeholders is essential to the holding of truly democratic elections and the international community accepts that the present elections list is bloated and must be changed ‘as a minimal condition’ for new elections. Again we must enquire: where in the media is the sustained demand for such a list to be immediately created? This is perhaps what the ‘at times expressed a wide variety of views’ contained in the opening statement is intended to convey!