Kissoon and gang dissipating foundation for ‘Best Practices’ journalism

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Mr. FREDDIE Kissoon in his daily column in the Kaieteur News on August 20, 2009 attempts to spin my letter titled ‘Columnists presenting unverified information,’ in the Kaieteur Newspaper on August 14, 2009 for his purposes, but once again fails. Kissoon is totally out of context and totally out of order as an academic and as a journalist, and I would advise him to box the pages of a few journalistic texts to apprise himself of the rules and principles of good journalism. In my letter, I mentioned Freddie Kissoon and other critics, not ‘Freddie Kissoon’ solely.

I intended to explicate and impugn in my letter the travesty of poor journalism; with regard to these, my penned remarks, whoever the cap fits, let them wear it, included Freddie Kissoon. Compliance with the elementals of good journalism, i.e., fundamental fairness, objectivity, balance, sensitivity, etc., is mandatory, non-debatable, and non-negotiable.

In Guyana, there are many journalists whether they are pro-government or anti-government, who portray themselves to be professionals, but from their writings we can tell the level of unprofessionalism they possess by the amount of ‘gibberish’ they produce. However, I still hold the view that Freddie Kissoon’s career as an academic implies the execution of a ‘role-modeling’ responsibility that should prominently be invasive in his columns; but that kind of responsibility is consistently missing; his columns seem to exhibit a strong ‘hear say’ characteristic.

Kissoon is no threat to this government, but his columns could endanger the sagging journalism in Guyana; his writings convey, too, wrong and superfluous messages, especially to gullible Guyanese.

Compliance with the fundamental media code of conduct is serious business. Look what is happening in Guyana and this is why I spoke about ‘other critics’ in addition to Freddie Kissoon. There is a daily eruption of fog facts in the news, where useful information systematically fades away through opinioned newscasts; the result is a paralysis of analysis of the information; the newscasts are supposed to inform, but as Schechter (2005) aptly asserts: “…much of the news often misinforms, distorts and deceives.” The British newspaper the Guardian demonstrates the growing trepidation against newscasts when in a recent news quiz it published, one of the questions asked: “Who accidentally sent an e-mail to the BBC that read: “Now f**k off and cover something important you twats?”

There is still another side to these media distortions; excessive usage of ‘Reports suggest’; ‘Reliable reports state’; ‘this newspaper understands’ may in some cases conceal non-compliance with the verification principle. Journalists do not have to reveal their sources; but given the existing sensitivities in some stories, editors have to exercise greater vigilance where clearly excesses are being committed in the ‘reliable reports state’ reportage.

At any rate, presenting distortions allows media houses to advance their own political agenda; invariably, the newscasts read as political broadcasts. Incontrovertibly, some media houses drive particular political lines, affording tacit support for suspecting political candidates. Anyway, media houses consider the distorted news items as important; but viewers and readers may see these news items as of no great concern, further increasing people’s misgivings with the media. And so that is why some parts of the media now carry the label of ‘new opposition’.

Many private media houses also are not fulfilling their public interest responsibilities, and really do not deserve the label ‘independent’; and many violate the principles of the free press as objectivity, accuracy, and fundamental fairness. About 200 hundred years ago, President Jefferson said: “The only security of all is in a free press.” And in 1823, he said: “The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to…” Today, in Guyana, these statements could be re-written as: “The only danger of all is in a false media. The force of its false opinion must be rejected when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be refuted.”
Today, some critics including Freddie Kissoon continue to make allegations against the government, that Guyana is an elected dictatorship; that Guyana is not free; that Guyana has no democracy; that Guyana has little economic development; that Guyana marginalises Africans; etc.

Their writings seem to portray the government as one that has never accomplished any positive gains for Guyana. When will these critics make comments on the transition to democracy that came in 1992 after 24 years of authoritarianism; when no institution made the government accountable to its people; an age of coercion where PNC rulers saw no limits to their authority and regulated all social life.

The PPP/C Government reinstated human rights in this country; it has a historic track record since 1953 of promoting equality before the law for all persons; and making discrimination against all people unlawful through the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997; and this Administration endorsed the Optional Protocol on the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the previous PNC regime was not a signatory.

In fact, the international-based Freedom House has deemed Guyana ‘free’ with regard to political rights and civil liberties since 1993. Guyana is free.

‘Guyana is not a democracy’ is another unproven onslaught on the integrity of this Administration. Let’s explore this critique.

Democracy is more than casting ballots at election times. Karl (1990) refers to this as a ‘fallacy of electoralism’. Goldstone et al (2005) in their study of transitions to and from democracy analyzed about 1,300 political, demographic, economic, social, and environmental variables for all countries globally with populations greater than 500,000 through 1955-2003.

They concluded that democracy has to do with ‘election competitiveness’ and ‘inclusiveness’; and democracy can be measured through (1) and (2): (1) executive recruitment – how is the President elected and the frequency and competitiveness of elections? Note the limits on the President through Articles 90, 180, and 182 of the Guyana Constitution. The issue here is whether elections are free and have at least two parties contesting elections. Note that the 1992, 1997, and 2001 elections were free, fair, and transparent, and endorsed by international observers; note, too, the independent Guyana Elections Commission. (2) Competitiveness of political participation – the issue here is whether this government limits political participation.

More countries today are less of a democracy not because of the quality of their elections, but more because of the quality of their political participation. Among other factors, absence of a Party from Parliament reduces quality participation, as evidenced by the PNCR in the last Parliamentary Session.

It is time the Guyanese people distinguish among the good, the bad, and the ugly journalists. And clearly Freddie Kissoon, and the usual suspects, may have a lot to answer for, in dissipating the foundation for ‘best practices’ journalism in Guyana.
PREM MISIR