My life at the Stabroek News
THE FREDDIE KISSOON COLUMN
June 6, 2004
The PPP Government since 1992 and the Stabroek News have been two of the bitterest disappointments in my life and also in the life of this troubled land, Guyana.
If the PPP had turned away from the politics of power domination and corruption after the demise of electoral engineering and authoritarian government after 1992, and had embraced a humanist, innovative and inclusive style of governance based on a political culture in the handsome tradition of people like Mandela, Gorbachev, Pierre Trudeau among others, this country would have returned to its glorious days as the epicenter of Caribbean affairs.
I write often about this great betrayal in Caribbean history and I will continue to analyze it, so I need not detain readers on this subject.
The other failure in post-colonial Guyana is the Stabroek News. The venality of the PPP Government and the racist elitism of the Stabroek News have set this country backwards by almost half a century.
When I gravitated towards the Stabroek News in the late eighties, I wanted to nurture a culture of independent thinking in Guyana.
My entry into political activities was strongly influenced by men who, though they belonged to active political movements, were essentially free-thinking men who would have never allowed partisan thinking to block the flow of an independent vision.
When I was a mere 16-year-old lad, EMG Wilson of the PPP leadership had a profound influence on my character. “Coco” as we fondly called him, was never a “yes man” in the PPP. Then, youthful idealism drove me away from the PPP and into the world of the WPA where I met Brian Rodway, the essential existentialist.
Brian had a lot to do with the fierceness with which I cling to my independent perspective. Father Andrew Morrison would later help me take my freewheeling spirit to its logical apogee.
It was within this evolutionary framework that I sought a relationship with the Stabroek News. It was the only newspaper around after 1992. The Catholic Standard had reverted to its Catholic role, and Sharief Khan supervised the spiral decline of the Chronicle. The Stabroek News, then, was the only avenue available to do social analysis for any independent academic who wanted to return Guyana to its idealistic days in the sixties when intellectuals were proud to be independent thinkers.
The founders of the Stabroek News, Miles Fitzpatrick and David De Caires, were lawyers that I heard my elders talking about whenever the subject of politics came up. As a little boy, I heard about them and always thought that they were liberal iconoclasts. These were the types I admired and would want to be like them when I grew up.
I never got to know the substance in the ideology of the two founders of the Stabroek News because Burnham’s authoritarianism brought all his opponents together; so there was no moment to allow for the separation of “the sheep from the goats” as our old folks were fond of saying.
I got a rude entry into the world of Fitzpatrick and De Caires. Fitzpatrick found me too argumentative and impertinent. No one was allowed to disagree with him. Fitzpatrick was God’s gift to Guyana. I had to know my place. One day, he wrote a note to me telling me that he does not think I should write for the Stabroek News because he doesn’t think a newspaper should have columnists.
Within a few weeks, he became a weekly writer with his own newspaper. The final straw was when he rejected one of my columns using the words, “this is just Freddie’s chit chat.” I then pointed out to him that when he devoted one of his columns to his mother learning to drive and drove off the road, if that wasn’t chitchat. That was the end for me. My dismissal was a matter of time
De Caires was subtler but the elitism, racial arrogance and condescending attitude mirrored that of Fitzpatrick’s. Two articles finally did it and De Caires, who left a brief note at the front desk, unceremoniously dropped me. The note informed me that I lacked intellectual depth to write columns and within the space of three months, I may be considered again.
Of course, readers who are familiar with me should know the manner in which I replied to De Caires. Of the articles that got me in trouble, one was on Ms. Jocelyn Dow as a member of the Elections Commission for which Fitzpatrick ordered my eviction. The other was a disagreement with Fitzpatrick, De Caires and Mr. Ian Mc Donald who argued that the yellow colour of Courts Furniture Store was awful. I pointed out that the colour could be justified within the arguments of aesthetics.
Mc Donald hit the roof and demanded my immediate removal as a columnist.
I wasn’t around when the European class dominated life in Georgetown and how the darker races had to know their places and be put in their places. I grew up seeing my father being discriminated by that class. I grew up hearing my aunts and uncles talking about the acceptance of the children of such people at the commercial banks and in the Catholic schools while darker skinned Guyanese were not even allowed to apply. Attached as a columnist for the Stabroek News, that world came right in front of my eyes. And I refused to do what my brothers and sisters had to do- submit to that European class. I was the last offspring in the Kissson family, a product of the hippie generation of the seventies and I wasn’t going to kowtow to any European master. I refused to do that at Stabroek News. I will never do that.
The Stabroek News went on a campaign of harassment. In 1995, as a staff member of UG, I questioned the eligibility of its senior reporter, Gitanjali Persaud, now Singh, to enter UG.
For making that enquiry, the Stabroek went after me with venom. Mr. Fitzpatrick was quoted in an editorial note urging Mrs. Singh to report me to the police for abusing her. The paper never asked me for my side of the story.
Then when the university dismissed me the same year, Mr. De Caires ran an editorial note disagreeing with my reinstatement that was ordered by the Council of the University. My little daughter was just five years old when I was dismissed and when Mr. De Caires rejected my reinstatement.
But justice was on my side. I survived and my little daughter is now a teenaged girl doing well in school. I am still a columnist in my country writing for a paper that has the largest circulation and people read me even when it is “just Freddie’s chit chat.”