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Monday, 14 April 2008 00:00
New York Institute says closure of Guyana TV 6 an assault on press freedom


The Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID) has strongly condemned Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo's decision last Friday to shutdown Guyana's privately owner CNS Television Channel 6 for four months. Jagdeo directed Chandra Narine Sharma, owner of the station and an opposition politician, to cease operation at midnight last Friday, over an alleged on-air license infringement in February. 


The revocation of Sharma's license is a result of a caller on a live call-in program in February, openly advocating the killing of President Jagdeo. Subsequently, the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB), which has statutory jurisdiction over the monitoring of broadcast content, wrote to Sharma seeking an explanation for the alleged breach of the conditions of his license. Sharma subsequently acknowledged the breach and apologized to the ACB and Jagdeo. His apology was accepted by the committee.

However, Jagdeo, the aggrieved party, within whose ministerial portfolio the ACB falls, superseded the ACB and directed Sharma to appear before him for a hearing, in his capacity as Minister of Communications. Immediately following the "so-called" hearing," Jagdeo dispatched a letter to Sharma stating that his explanations were unsatisfactory and that he found that the content of the program had infringed on the conditions of his license. The letter also informed Sharma that his license would be revoked for four months, commencing immediately.

However, CGID President, Rickford Burke, told reporters in New York that Jagdeo's decision was ultra vires, and that the Guyanese President "is increasingly ruling like a dictator and is "attempting to impose gangster communism on Guyana." He contended that Jagdeo has been calculatingly trampling the rights of targeted citizens with impunity because of a weak political opposition. "The Guyanese people must now take a stand and beat back this frontal assault on civil liberties, freedom of the press and democracy," Burke emphasized.


Last night the Guyana Press Association (GPA) harshly condemned Jagdeo's action. Several civil society and political leaders, including Cheddi Jagan, Jr., the son of Cheddi and Janet Jagan, who both headed previous PPP governments, also appeared on CNS TV6 to denounce the President's action as "dictatorial."  


Burke decried Jagdeo's action as draconian and said the President believes he is an emperor with imperial powers ignore the law." Burke observed that under the laws of natural justice, "No one can be a judge in his own cause;" meaning "The accuser must not sit in judgment of the accused and that "The judge can under no circumstances arrogate to himself the roles of judge and jury; of judge and witness or that of judge and prosecutor."


"It should not escape observers that Jagdeo is the complainant, the prosecutor, the judge and the jury in this matter. Suffice it to say that his actions are unconstitutional on all counts. He acted extra-constitutionally and violated the due process rights of Mr. Sharma as well," the CGID head stated.  


He contended that this latest incident demonstrates that democracy is under siege in Guyana. He also opined that CNS TV 6 was shut down expressly because it is an avid critic of the government and that the opposition leader has a program on that station. He said it is no coincidence that whenever you are a critic of the PPP regime, you end up in jail for treason, like Mark Benschop; in jail for sedition, like Oliver Hinckson; you are shut down, like CNS TV 6, or you are gunned down in cold blood, like late journalist Ronald Waddell.


He called on members of the journalistic fraternity as well as regional and international media associations to condemn "Jagdeo's assault on press freedom and to stand in solidarity with CNS TV 6."


The Institute President also flayed PPP executive member and presidential advisor, Gail Teixeira and PPP Member of Parliament, Anil Nandalall, who on Saturday night suggested on the state television, NCN TV, that Sharma had committed treason. Burke said he saw the comments live on Jump TV and was outraged. He noted that "What was even more despicable is that these utterances were made in the presence of Attorney General, Doodnauth Singh, who remained astonishingly silent."


What kind of society are we living in, when every time someone says something bad about the government they are indicted for treason? Burke asked. He said that "while we must all condemn the comments of the caller, over whom the TV station had no control, we must not allow the government to use the incident as an excuse to perpetuate an abuse of governmental power or countenance dictatorial rule.