Doodnauth urges more responsible crime reporting
…says media should not be `lap dog’
Guyana Chronicle
April 12, 2002

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MINISTER of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Doodnauth Singh, is calling on the media to be more responsible when reporting on the present heightened crime situation in the country.

Speaking on a GTV programme, `Close Up’, hosted by producer Martin Goolsarran, Singh noted that the manner in which criminal activities are reported in the print and electronic media is very important, the Government Information Agency reported.

He was at the time referring to news reports on the five escaped bandits who have terrorised citizens since their daring breakout from the Camp Street Prison in Georgetown on February 23 last.

In their bid to escape, Prison Officer, Troy Williams was killed, and colleague Roxanne Whinfield critically injured.

To date, the five men are still at large and continuing to drive fear into citizens, causing heightened tension in several areas.

Referring to comments made on the situation by the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNC/R) party, Singh said members of the media ought to be more responsible and “not be lap dogs” for everything that is said by political movements or human rights organisations.

He said it is the inference and propaganda effect of the media that is important, and stressed three guidelines to which practitioners should adhere - be responsible; recognise that mechanisms are in place to deal with any type of abuse (by the Police) and that the mechanisms ought to be utilised; and be cognisant that, in case of political instability, the economy will suffer ultimately.

The downward spiral, Singh lamented, will become uncontrollable, since the criminal elements would have had a “field day”.

Asked to comment on the term “extra judicial killing”, commonly used by the PNC/R to describe the manner in which members of the Target Special Squad (TSS or ‘Black Clothes Police’) execute their duties when confronted by hardened criminals, Singh said he finds it “offensive” that such a term is being used. He explained that whenever an incident occurs, the Police investigate.

Singh, however, added that it is regrettable that the Police cannot react in a similar manner to the victims’ families or political parties.

He pointed out that after an incident would have occurred, statements given by witnesses or families are taken as credible and as representing the truth.

Singh said, too, that before a killing is justified, all the facts and circumstances must be examined, and further explained that a recourse to “unjustified” killing is to institute a civil lawsuit against the accused.

Reacting to today’s ‘deadline’ set by PNC/R leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte for the Government to disband the TSS, Singh asked, “how do you disband such a unit? What are you going to put in its place, a pack of pencil-pushers?”

He explained that the TSS was originally born in the military and called the Tactical Services Unit, with duties of responding to given emergencies.

Singh remarked that if the Guyana Police Force was not equipped with such a unit, it would have been criticised for not being able to effectively respond to cases of emergencies involving criminal activities. He voiced concerns about the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) not being involved in the Police dragnet to recapture the five escapees, who are considered to be armed and dangerous.

Singh cited Jamaica which calls out its military in full force at short notice whenever criminal activities “got out of hand”.

He questioned the wisdom of military duties in the context of the present crime situation. “There is no question of declaring a state of emergency to have them involved, because what else are they there for? What are their duties and their activities?”

Singh emphasised that if the Police Force is depleted and unable to deal with the situation, then it should ask for back-up assistance.

The television programme also featured Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport, Ms. Gail Teixeira, who said the media have a duty not to incite people.

She pointed out that in any country where crime and drugs are prevalent, a special target squad is necessary and expressed dismay at the call made by the PNC/R for the disbandment of the TSS.

Disbanding the unit would “embolden” the criminals to perpetrate crimes more freely, she said.

Teixeira also described the statement by the PNC/R as being “tongue in cheek” and expressed shock at the opposition’s callousness at not showing any concern for law-abiding citizens of the country.

She also declared that the PNC/R is desperately trying to find something “to hold on to” to increase political tension in Guyana.

The Minister thinks that the party is doing this by mobilising its supporters to protest against so called “extra judicial killings” by the TSS, resulting in heightened political tension in the country.

She observed that the reason might be found in the fact that the PNC/R did not get the support it wanted when it walked out of the national budget presentation and debates in Parliament recently.

Teixeira also said some of the statements made by the party over the last few days regarding the shooting of Mr. Shaka Blair of Buxton, East Coast Demerara by Police, are cause for concern, as they relate to law and order.

She warned that the activities of the PNC/R cannot be taken at “face value” and termed the party’s call for disbanding the TSS as “reckless and irresponsible”.

“I think this borders on taking this country down the path of anarchy. If such calls are implemented, the bandits would be emboldened to strengthen their criminal activities,” Teixeira asserted.

“If you weaken your Police and your TSS, then in fact you are giving the criminals full reign in Guyana. These are issues that are disconcerting to people,” she added.