Both the main parties are prey to the culture of control
Stabroek News
January 12, 2002

Dear Editor,

A recent letter captioned "With political will new broadcasting legislation could have been passed a decade ago" (5/1/2002) [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] from an unnamed source could not have come at a more propitious time and this for two reasons; first, because the matter is of such importance as to justify public attention, second, because it raises important questions with regard to our democracy and the input of our people.

Broadcasting and various government administrations have had a long and involved history; and while I do not wish to go over ground already excellently covered by the writer, there are areas that should be addressed in order to complete the picture of dalliance, lethargy, bungling of the highest order, and perhaps even venality.

In 1992, while I was lecturing at the Ausbildungscentrum, the Radio University of the Voice of Germany in Koln, I was invited by Professor David Dabydeen to come to London to meet with Dr Cheddi Jagan. I agreed and met with them both later in the summer of 1992. Dr Jagan asked me if I would agree to help draft media legislation for Guyana. I pointed out that these matters were beyond my ken but I agreed to develop a framework for such legislation. I subsequently forwarded a document to Dr Jagan later that very year.

The following year I came to Guyana as visiting Fulbright Scholar at the University of Guyana and consulted Dr Jagan about the document I'd sent. He replied that some of the ideas would be incorporated in legislation that was being drafted by the Attorney General, Mr Dos Santos.

On my own initiative I went ahead and attempted to reactivate the radio station at the University of Guyana. Given by UNESCO some time previously, it had never really got off the ground: its transmitter was taken and placed elsewhere to boost the signal of the local government radio. I requested a transmitter from the US government; students began to work on the exterior of the building; call letters for the radio station were assigned by the frequency unit; students with the assistance of Dr Loncke composed a signature tune. But I'd gone ahead without official sanction.

Dr Jagan summoned me to his office and while commending me for my efforts nevertheless wanted to know how the facility was to be run and more precisely who would control it. I replied that the matter was under review and the university would appoint a committee to see into the matter. He suggested I abandon my efforts for the time being and I did. My hopes were dashed and so were the students who had expected so much. An opportunity had been lost to open a radio station for the benefit of students and the general public. Reluctantly I informed my contact at the US embassy to discontinue attempts to get a new transmitter.

In 2001, I resubmitted additional ideas about the legislation to co chairpersons Hoyte and Jagdeo. The former responded, the latter did not. But these matters are not about partisan responsibility, they are fundamentally about the nature of our democracy; how we shape it, how we tend it, and the participation of the people in it. A Memorandum of Understanding came out of these deliberations and an advisory committee on broadcasting is to advise the Prime Minister on broadcasting. Another committee!

The committee in the orthodoxy of government institutions is an accepted form of the democractic process, ensuring that the minutiae of legislation are gone over in the interests of legitimacy and harmony. But the committee can be an obstacle to change and a pernicious government can often do violence to the very democracy it seeks to encourage and frustrate the citizenry. (No one who is familiar with the work of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Senator Jesse Helms can disagree with me).

Both governing parties are prey to the culture of control that has so dominated this land for a generation; and closely allied to that culture is that of secrecy. Both are unnecessary and futile. I know of few countries and I've lived in half a dozen and visited an equal number where the manufacture of rumor, and its cousin, gossip grow exponentially. Why therefore bother about control of the radio spectrum when news and gossip are so pervasive and the populace will itself decide what is news and what is not. A creative populace is not to be sneezed at; and Guyanese are creative in these matters; and in the age of the Internet news belongs to us all, is the common heritage we share with the world. The content of news is beyond the government's power to control and events in technology already make this an impossibility. If news cannot be controlled why then should the means of its dissemination be controlled. The premise borders on absurdity.

Nothing is more damaging to the relations between government and people than mistrust of the people; and mistrust of people leads to fear of action and paralysis. A government that fails to act from fear acts out its own demise, weakens its constituency and is unable to consistently lead. This failure can be seen in its treatment of highly qualified professionals in the broadcasting field. The contributions of Chlomondeley, Nascimento, and Rafique Khan can serve as a basis for immediate implementation. I know of no country in the Caribbean that can call on such professionals to better serve their nation.

Why therefore is government loathe to admit these professionals to draft appropriate legislation? Part of the answer lies in the Sunday Stabroek editorial (6/1/2002). "However, over its two terms in office, the government has tended to be suspicious of those who, whatever their competence, did not appear to be sympathetic to the party."

But there is hope, an abundance of hope. A former student of mine excitedly told me that it would be a good idea to establish a fleet of radio stations (his words) united by satellite or coaxial cable across the country: one on Ankoko island to repossess the territory and singe the beard of Venezuela, another station in Rupununi to upset Brazil, and a third in Skeldon to embarrass the Surinamese. Still excited, he suggested hiring a schooner to ply the Atlantic in international waters and broadcast to the Guyanese people Pirate Radio.

I didn't respond at times it is better to maintain silence. I didn't want to discourage his dreams. And over the years I too have had to come to terms with dreams of a government that will some day exist to harness the forces for change that so amply exist in our country.

Yours faithfully,

Arnold Gibbons, PhD

Professor, Media Studies

Hunter College

City University of New York