CROOKED REWRITING OF POLITICAL HISTORY
EDITORS HAVE TO DO MORE
BY PREM MISIR
March 19, 2007
“…the right to communicate …information is subject to the qualification…that false accusations of fact impugning the integrity of others, including politicians, should not be made by the media. Where a reporter is intending to broadcast or publish information impugning the integrity of others the management of his broadcasting company or newspaper should ensure that a system is in place whereby his editor or editors give careful consideration to the wording of the report and to whether it is right in all the circumstances to broadcast or publish it…”, so says the Hutton Inquiry, 2004.
And today, media editors in Guyana have to be brought to book in allowing a few columnists’ unsubstantiated anecdotes, more akin to gibberish, impugning the integrity of public figures and distorting political history. Opinions and commentaries must be held to the same standards of accuracy with regard to facts, as news reports.
The Guyana Press Association (GPA), if it’s worth anything, must address the cavalier and unseemly work of some ‘columnists’ ‘editors’, and ‘reporters’.
In Guyana, the Fourth Estate, the media, needs to engage in a journalism of verification and fact finding rather than in a journalism of allegations. The Guyana journalists have been increasingly neglectful of their duty to seek out the truth, to understand and report issues from all possible angles.
Recent commentaries on both electronic and print media are deeply troubling; the commentaries continue to aggressively distort the political history of this country. It is one thing to have an opinion about something; but another to present this opinion as a fact. Opinions are not necessarily facts.
A case in point is the work of Dr. Cheddi Jagan that is continuously being besmirched with distortions; that Dr. Jagan among others inflicted great hurt to Guyana; with anecdotes that really are not analyses. No one could disagree that we all are embedded with fault structures that inform behaviors. But then in a force field analysis where we distinguish between the pros and cons, we would be able to see the magnitude of Dr. Jagan’s contributions toward nation building, notwithstanding that we would be tapping a mere few of those contributions.
It’s hard to configure a ‘nation’ without independence; it’s hard to see the emergence of a ‘nation’ under colonial hegemony; colonial domination. Naipaul criticizes colonialists’ perceptions that see local peoples as having no distinct qualities, and that all of them can be compartmentalized into one cultural non-distinguishing brownish mass. Culture makes a person; and colonial domination hurts the culture of the dominated; hurts human development; hurts national development. Dr. Jagan understood the full wrath of colonial hegemony.
Former President Dr. Jagan was a tenacious fighter against colonial domination; a fighter for Independence. Dr. Jagan couched this idea of Independence in a pamphlet titled ‘Cooperative Way’ in 1945; at a time when there was no mass following, no mass foundation; there was indeed political vacuum; and the working people’s interests were excluded from both the Indian and African middle-class agenda.
Dr. Jagan with Ashton Chase, Jocelyn Hubbard, and his wife Janet Jagan, then sought to fill this vacuum, bringing forth a new dawn in Guyana’s politics: the creation of the Political Affairs Committee (PAC), forerunner to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), heralded the beginnings of the mass-based party and the articulation and resolution of workers’ concerns. And indeed, this was Dr. Jagan’s indomitable style of contributing to Guyana.
The unrelenting campaign for Independence continued after the formation of the PPP in 1950; the PPP’s feverish struggle drew the ire of the British planters, prompting the arrival of the Waddington Constitution; and its major recommendation gave birth to ‘one man, one vote’; this is universal adult suffrage and the PPP under Dr. Jagan gave Guyanese this self-respect and dignity to voice their opinion. And indeed, this was Dr. Jagan’s indomitable style of contributing to Guyana.
When Independence finally became an agenda item at the 1960 Constitutional Conference, the PNC exhibited little enthusiasm for Independence; again in 1962, the PNC in a further effort to delay Independence conditioned its granting upon the introduction of a new electoral system.
Again, when in 1961 the Secretary of State for the Colonies Reginald Maudling refused Jagan’s request for Independence by May 31, 1962, Jagan pressured the United Nations’ Fourth Committee; the Committeee agreed to mull the matter of Independence and to report back to the General Assembly; and at the same time, this Fourth Committee requested the British to resurrect Independence negotiations without further delay. We should know that only an Independent territory was eligible to make representations on this Fourth Committee; in 1961, Guyana was not yet Independent; but Jagan was able to manoeuvre the hearing. And indeed, this was Dr. Jagan’s indomitable style of contributing to Guyana.
Dr. Cheddi Jagan firmly believed that a university is inextricably linked with national development and that access to higher education should be available to all. Once Cabinet approved the proposal for the establishment of a University on December 6, 1961, Jagan rolled out intensive communications with academics abroad to assist him in this needed project. UG’s presence today, largely a product of Dr. Jagan’s guiding light and resoluteness, is a remarkable testimony to the heroic people who stood their ground to ensure that the University continues to have breadth and to be of high degree. And indeed, this was Dr. Jagan’s indomitable style of contributing to Guyana.
And there are now desperate cries that Dr. Jagan and the PPP bungled the opportunity for national consensus in 1992; untrue. How so? The PPP first initiated the proposal for a National Patriotic Front Government in 1977; then the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) emerged after the 1985 elections; PPP wanted the PCD program to be disseminated, but others disagreed; choice of a Presidential Candidate and joint slate for the National Assembly became problematic; PPP then recommended a provisional Presidential candidate and a provisional joint slate; both provisions rejected, including the rejection of Jagan and Luncheon as Presidential candidates, the former for being an Indian and the latter a communist; and the wrangling went on; Dr. Jagan and the PPP made significant recommendations to break the impasse at several points, but all were severally rejected. And indeed, this was Dr. Jagan’s indomitable style of contributing to Guyana.
Jagan was no bootlicker; he stood for the moral law of truth. Tim Hector of Antigua puts it beautifully thus: “…Cheddi Jagan…exemplar of the new Caribbean, lived a noble life. Of few, if any, that can be said in the Caribbean, among those who held state power…Winston Churchill and Harold MacMillan, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Dean Rusk had all conspired against him backed by their enormous intelligence and military machines. Jagan resisted, retreated but never surrendered.” And indeed, this was Dr. Jagan’s indomitable style of contributing to Guyana.
Today in the media, there is a search for false power by a ‘select few’ media operatives through denigrating public figures without just cause; their trickery and intrigue replace a journalism of verification and fact finding with a journalism of allegations; and their cowardice and self-aggrandizement supplant unbiased courage; this is bad journalism where form dominates substance, too. The GPA and editors now must be tasked with returning substance to its rightful place; substance grounded in truth.