JUST LIKE IT IS – Political branding
I have been a great admirer of Guyana’s outgoing President Bharrat Jagdeo since meeting him and hearing his impressive interventions at the 2001 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia.
Moscow-educated, he left a lasting impression of being modest, knowledgeable, confident and highly articulate. Indeed, I recall a member of the host delegation and the Botswana president leaning over to ask who he was. I attended three of these top Commonwealth meetings and I do not remember more impressive contributions.
Under his astute leadership, Guyana has constantly maintained an annual growth rate of over five per cent when other regional countries have struggled to achieve one or two per cent. Caught
in the rule he introduced that no president should serve more than two consecutive terms, he will demit office next month. Unlike Russia’s Vladimir Putin, he will not seek to become prime minister.
Still just 47 years old, it will be interesting to see which international organization utilizes his generously endowed and widely respected intellectual talents, experience and competence.
Against that background, I was surprised by two recent happenings relating to the severely politically aligned Guyanese media. The first was the suspension of the broadcasting licence of CNS TV, owned
by Mr C. N. Sharma, a well-known anti-government activist. Restored, it is now slated to become effective again after the November 28 general elections.
The second came during a public meeting last Sunday night when President Jagdeo described media workers as “vultures and carrion crows” who should be “thrown into jail”. Whatever the real or perceived shortcomings of the media, high office protocol demands better from a democratic head of state.
The suggestion that media workers should be jailed is particularly unfortunate and may well inflame the wider population. Equally unfortunate was a call from his political adviser to guard against the media and attempting to compare Rwanda’s media and its role in that country’s genocide to Guyana’s.
That is disgracefully hyperbolic!
The Guyana Press Association responded, warning that it held politicians responsible for the safety of journalists, “the watchdogs of the public’s interest”. It further condemned the statements as “wholly uncalled for, damaging and repugnant” and intended to silence and harm the media.
Democracy has largely emerged from the nakedly autocratic Forbes Burnham regime and the country has made admirable economic gains under Jagdeo.
It would be most regrettable if the election campaign is despoiled by anti-media public aggression and violence, leaving a negative legacy of his years in office.
Fortunately for us in Barbados, the political leadership, for as long as I can remember, has never made similarly repugnant and provocative assaults on the media. Respect for the Fourth Estate is high and a noticeable recent phenomenon is the movement of certain moderators of call-in programmes from the studio to political office.
Unfortunately, the Government-owned and controlled Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), with its nightly brag of being “credible, balanced and committed” notwithstanding, continues to parade its lack of political balance functioning primarily as a mouthpiece of the Government and ruling Democratic Labour Party.
Let me cite the most recent example. On Wednesday the Central Bank Governor reported to the nation on the review of the economy for the first nine months of this year. The news, not surprisingly, was not good. More jobs were lost and more will be lost, more tourists had come but spent less, and Barbadians were warned of a tight rein as the economies of the major metropolitan countries were still under stress.
As is normal in all properly functioning democracies, Leader of the Opposition Owen Arthur called a media caucus on Thursday to focus on aspects of the governor’s report. It beggars belief that CBC, in none of its newscasts on its monopoly TV station or any of its three radio stations, reported on anything that he said.
It is a patent national disgrace bearing in mind that the Opposition Leader, a trained economist, was for 13 fruitful years a highly successful prime minister and minister of finance and was ideally placed to speak learnedly and meaningfully on what the governor said or chose not to say.
Unless I am listening to the wrong people, John and Jane Public, deeply concerned about the economic crisis, had looked forward eagerly to his expert critical analysis.
But not a word on “credible, balanced” CBC. It was the lead story on Starcom Network and even the Advocate, whose political partisanship its publisher announced some time ago, gave a full report of Mr Arthur’s findings.
CBC’s expatriate general manager left quietly, his legacy invisible to the naked eye. So, too, a dyed-in-the-wool senior newsroom party operative.
I have no idea who is in charge. Whoever it is, please remember your salary is paid by taxpayers of all political persuasions. They expect important news to be reported without political favour.
Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat. Email [email protected]