A number of Cabinet members had raised concerns about columns in the state-owned Guyana Chronicle newspaper being repeatedly critical of the coalition-led administration, resulting in the final decision to remove them from the pages of that government-controlled publication, multiple sources said.
One source said a high-level Cabinet member had repeatedly asked when steps would have been taken to remove Professor David Hinds and veteran trade unionist, Lincoln Lewis.
The discomfort by sections of Cabinet had weeks ago eventually trickled down to Editor-in-Chief, Nigel Williams, who had from time time capitalised on the columnists’ delayed submissions to avoid publishing them on the basis of lateness.
When contacted Wednesday afternoon Williams, however, denied with a blunt “no” that he was directed by any Cabinet member. including President David Granger, to ban Hinds and Lewis from being contributing columnists to the Guyana Chronicle. “That’s not true. As I said, the reason for the decision is based on what I put in the letter to the guys,” Williams told Demerara Waves Online News.
Among those voting against the return of the columnists were Alliance For Change (AFC) supporters- Board Chairwoman and Ministry of the Presidency functionary, Geeta Chandan-Edmond, and Sherod Duncan, Arron Fraser, and Hilbert Foster.
In favour of the return were Directors- independent journalist Bert Wilkinson; Mass Communications expert Karen Davis; author and AFC supporter, Ruel Johnson, and Working People’s Alliance Chairwoman and Ministry of the Presidency official, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley.
The 5-4 decision by the full board of Directors of the Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL)- publishers of the Guyana Chronicle- to kick out the columnists did not go down well with another of the administration’s supporters, Wesley Kirton.
He called on President Granger to take steps to restore the columnists in that newspaper which has had an history of political interference in its content dating back to the People’s National Congress (PNC)-led and People’s Progressive Party Civic-led administrations of the 1970s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. “I urge His Excellency President David Granger, himself at one time a publisher, to intervene and to advise the Chronicle board that it should revisit its decision. His should be advice and not an instruction. For him to instruct the board would be political interference. He should simply ask the board to take another look at the matter,” said Kirton.
The WPA of which Professor Hinds is an executive member also slammed government for its decision to remove him and Lewis from the publication as columnists. That party, which teamed up with the PNCR to form A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) to contest the 2011 general elections, called on the Guyanese leader to tell the nation what is his position the issue.
“WPA calls on President David Granger as Head of State, Leader of the APNU, and Leader of the APNU +AFC coalition and government to clarify his and his government’s position on this recent act of censorship and victimization. A refusal to correct this wrong will in time prove to be regrettable. We are steadfast in our judgment that the vast majority of the Guyanese people has a keen interest in the President’s position – whatever that is. It will bring clarity on this issue, end speculation and aid the political culture,” that party said.
The WPA slammed the decision to ban Hinds as a columnist, saying that the Board of Directors was a party to political repression of critics. “The endorsement of this act of political repression by the Board of the Guyana Chronicle demonstrates the fragility of our democracy. The inability of the board to appreciate its role and recognize its essential mandate as the custodians of a state paper which should ensure that the views of all are permitted, that freedom of the press should be sacrosanct and allow such a decision to stand does not bode well for the future of this paper and what we can in future expect from the board as it stands,” that party said.
Expressing concern at the “puzzling decision” to discontinue the publication of Hinds and Lewis’ columns, the Guyana Press Association (GPA), which is part of a regional and global network of press freedom and freedom of expression watchdogs, suggested that their constitutional right to freedom of expression might have been dampened. That organisation also called on the government to revisit the decision. “The GPA hopes that the Editor-in-Chief, the Board of Directors and by extension the Government revisit this action with aim of reinstating the views of these columnists in keeping with the Guyana Chronicle’s motto – “the Nation’s Newspaper”,” the association said.