Dangerous extremes, vulgarity excused

Frankly speaking...
Stabroek News
April 6, 2001

I feel constrained to comment briefly with some vehemence, on one product of the elections campaign and its immediate aftermath. I refer to the heightened, deliberate, co-ordinated, strategic and organised verbal assaults against decency played out on television, in the guise of political debate or the defence of the rights of the "disenfranchised and vulnerable".

Two West Indian Media specialists of some experience and eminence, Mr Whylie and Mr. Mayers, normally respected by reasonable journalists in the Caribbean, titled their final report on the journalistic goings-on here as "A case of dangerous extremes". But many of us didn't need the assessment of overseas experts to tell us of the low-life type expression of political "journalism" that manifests itself on our TV screens daily. In naked, obscene verbal aggression, it was there and still is - as a clear and present danger - for all of the more level-headed to see, hear and perhaps heed.

Justifiably pessimistic, I had always doomed the excellent locally-crafted Media Code to failure. Our popular sub-cultures here are now accommodating to that which is vile, cheap and one-sided. The political television activists had their primary functions to extend the elections campaign to the television screen "by any means necessary". To hell with any regulatory Media Code of Behaviour or Ethics. And away with leaders like Juan Edghill who preaches that "it is better to be right than popular".

Whylie and Mayers related the instances of incitement, racism, obscenity and other types of unbalanced gutter journalism. Nothing new or unexpected to us. I cannot, however, appreciate their equating the misuse of the state media by pro-government operatives to the vulgarity of the tele-activists on the opposition side. Could those extremes really compare? I know though, that the dubious gem they're taking to the Region with them is "I'll supply the rumour, you find the evidence". Poor Guyana.

Frankly speaking however, this piece is partly intended to record my personal disgust at a strategy I see being manifested. The word "vulgar" can mean "of the common people; plebeian". But I use it today to mean "low, coarse and gross". Not even the supposedly-proud ethno-centric (sometimes racist) positions of the Idi Amins of local political TV. I mean the nightly televised exhibitions of late last year and up to this March which featured an individual who took pleasure in denigrating public figures, undermining certain institutions, disrespecting and attempting to devalue selected individuals and agencies in this society. From judges to Police Commissioners to Priests, this foul-mouthed fellow was allowed to get away with journalistic murder.

Now, guess what?! This unethical dual citizen, masquerading as the "voice" of the impressionable misled "people", is being afforded a rescue job. By ostensibly well-meaning, reformed(?) protagonists of "Civil Society", led by comfortable middle-class professionals. Just imagine! healing? reconciliation? Previous long-lasting vulgarity, just recently manifested with vicious evil intent, is now being varnished - with some respectability. Now being excused, pardoned. The scoundrel is dressed up in different garb. New guests and flowers. What example is being set here? All is to be forgiven?

Yes I do have long memories of the wicked - the mischief-makers who would wreak havoc through the sub-literate and the gullible. Then leave. I know too, the stark difference between the outward gentlemanly demeanour and the inner diabolical nature, just waiting to repeat its wicked work. On call from new masters who replaced the first ones who stopped the original incentives. No. For me public vulgarity is to be rarely excused. I'll never forget.

Disenfranchised? Marginalised?

Not for once would I deny that there are indeed those categories in our society. Genuinely so. I urge you who think things out however, to cogitate on all new buzz-words and catch-phrases thrown at you.

"Disenfranchise" means to purposely deny the vote to those eligible and qualified to vote. But how many who did not vote were certain Christians who don't? Or those who registered just to get their National I.D cards? Or those who didn't register at all. Let the true records speak. Wasn't there a 93.5% turnout in Region 4? Because our electorate is small, it is unfortunate that the five percent margin of error or no-shows could potentially represent three or more seats, but as Stabroek News points out, "in most democracies the level of turn-out achieved here would be considered extraordinary."

Most societies have those who live on the edge and fringes. They are made to be - or become - "marginalised". I contend briefly, but pointedly: in Guyana today some of our marginalised are more visible than others. Let therefore, all honest politicians concede that a recent UNDP survey found that poverty among Afro-Guyanese had been reduced more than poverty existing among Indo-Guyanese. Ask Clive Thomas!

Any society, of course, must aim at eradicating all poverty. Amongst all of the real marginalised!

The Burnham in Bharrat

I'll have to develop this topic much later, but because I don't want to postpone again, I'll begin. The "Burnham" here refers to the authoritative, decisive but sometimes autocratic nature of the former late leader.

Earlier this year, three close insiders revealed to me that young Bharrat Jagdeo is developing a type of Burnham tendency. Granted that one of my would-be informants is now quietly bitter over his Party "politics", they all agreed that the young PPP leader seldom actually openly disagrees, but quietly overrides collective decisions. How true? Watch this space for reports of a more assertive Bharrat. Whether it's announcing a sudden public holiday or choosing new ministers!

Peace, but fairplay...

1) Yes there is interest in the best rumour award. It is postponed one more time. Because one of the judges was himself found to be a closet rumour-monger. Results next Friday.

2) Great reaction to last week's question: Which Party would have gained most if 26,000 or 27,000 did not vote for the smaller parties or were rejected votes?

3) Reportedly Guyana's first official refugee in the 70's, Reuben A Gilbert came close, last Saturday, to telling what went on at East Ruimveldt/La Penitence/Charlestown Polling stations after 6:00 p.m. on Elections Day. (He thanks a PNC lady for his still being alive).

4) REFORM says "It should not matter who won or lost". In the same publication PNC says "irrespective of the results declared by the GECOM, no single party can shepherd the nation out of this crisis". Suppose that Party wins?

5) Do you realise how obsessive certain contenders were - and are - about just the privilege of entering Parliament?

6) Enrico wants a writ of Habeas Corpus to produce prolific letter-writer Aruni Narine. I agree. I want, among many others, one for "Marcus".

7) Kenny Anthony, Bharrat Jagdeo and the late Rosie Douglas. Now Ralph Gonsalves in St. Vincent. All admirers of CBJ. He must be smiling. No matter how long the wait.

8) When the Committees and Peace Groups call and walk for peace, they must consider mobilising swiftly and confronting the peace-breakers on the streets, In the fields!

9) Food alert? A few weeks ago during a walk-out at a certain Chinese restaurant an employee told of unsavoury practices and unsanitary conditions in the kitchen. The matter was resolved. Hope she wasn't right.

10) Our new culture and morality say that Dinanath Ramnarine's delaying tactics were O.K. Gamesmanship? Sportsmanship? If the others would have done it, does that make it right?

11) There is a big building in Robb Street that experiences four or five bomb scares per week. Callers report that 6 to 8 bombs are planted in the building. That amounts to 24 to 40 bombs some weeks! Wow!

12) And Oh. Don't read too much into any new appointments. Not yet.

'Til next week!