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Ethnic Relations Commission
66 Peter Rose & Anira Streets, Queenstown, Georgetown, Guyana
Tel. +592-231-6479, 231-6473,
231-6281, 231-6265
Fax: +592-231-6246

April 26, 2011

PRESS STATEMENT

Decision of the Ethnic Relations Commission with respect to a complaint made by the Office of the President against a number of identified articles appearing in the Stabroek News and Kaieteur News. The accusations are that the authors have been promoting racial insecurity, advocating race-based politics and making vile allegations of racist behavior against members of the Government.

The Ethnic Relations Commission acting under Article 212 D of the Constitution of Guyana, considering all the information at its disposal, regarding the said matter and having deliberated on the matter on the 11th April, 2011 at a specially convened meeting hereby adopts the following conclusions on the matter.

Background

Complaint was received by the Ethnic Relations Commission, dated July 1, 2010 from the Office of the President which contends that articles appearing in the Kaieteur News and Stabroek Newshave been promoting racial insecurity, advocating race based politics and making vile allegations of racist behavior against members of the Government.’  Some of these articles were enclosed with the complaint and are listed as follows:

  1. King King sent his goons to disrupt the conference –Kaieteur News, June 28, 2010
  2. Ruling Class racist ideology is back in vogue in Guyana – Kaieteur News, June 30, 2010
  3. Return to Slavery –Kaieteur News, June 30, 2010.
  4. Outrage at historical conference must be condemned –Stabroek News, June 29, 2010.

Brief:

The annual academic conference of the Guyana Historical Institute held in the Conference Hall of the National Library on June 26, 2010 according to media reports was disrupted briefly by a number of hecklers when a Kaiteur News columnist and University of Guyana Lecturer rose to give his presentation. The said columnist, wrote the following article: ‘King Kong sent his goons to disrupt the conference’ –Kaieteur News, June 28, 2010, which is the subject of one of the complaints before the Commission.

The article in brief, refers to a number of ‘goon elements,’ who are ‘beasts’ and who had been sent by ‘King Kong.’ It notes that the ‘dictators who rule over Guyanese are expanding their fascist terror’ and that the President’s exercise of power is ‘driven by the practice of ideological racism.’ The writer further goes on to say inter alia, that the ‘contempt for African Guyanese by an Indian racist regime has reached horrible levels. This cabal runs Guyana in favour of the East Indian population but uses their very victims to bolster their diminishing power base.’ The writer insinuates that all of the ‘dirty foot soldiers are African Guyanese’ and that ‘a racist, Indian oligarchy bent on pulverizing the African race in Guyana cannot find one, single Indian to recruit for goon service’ that ‘we are witnessing the dehumanization of an entire race in Guyana’ and that it is a ‘fascist version of a deadly racism never before seen in these parts of the world…’  This premise was subsequently echoed in a letter to the editor titled ‘Return to slavery’ (June 30, 2010 –Kaieteur News) and which states that: ‘Africans are surely returning to slavery. President Hoyte once said they (the PPP) prey on poor Africans and recruit them to do their dirty work. When their usefulness expires they turnaround and execute them to cover their tracts.’

In a letter published by the Stabroek News, June 29, 2010 signed by a number of persons, and titled: ‘Outrage at historical conference must be condemned.’  Referring to the said conference at the National Library (June 26, 2010) it was stated that:
We were ashamed at this latest example of the hiring of African-Guyanese women and men (and no doubt cheaply) to perform transparent, slimy acts of intimidation on behalf of a government which has reduced them to this level of degradation.

In another letter titled: ‘Ruling Class racist ideology is back in vogue in Guyana’ – Kaieteur News, June 30, 2010, there are a number of statements that are made including the allegation that there is  a ‘coercive psychological war that directly and indirectly states that no African Guyanese is qualified to be President of Guyana.’  It goes on to state that daily in Guyanese politics we see the ugly smiling faces of the race card. It is always played by the PPP…’ and ‘Young Africans in Guyana are told in every way …you are inferior. Only someone from a different race can govern you. You are not smart enough. You are not human enough. You are not worthy enough. This sounds like the arguments about slavery…’ The writer refers to this situation as ‘racial demagoguery. It is racial profiling. It is domestic terrorism of the mental type. It is subliminal. It is wicked. It is Hiterlike. It is psychological warfare.’

The Commission requested comments from the National Media and Publishing Company Ltd (Kaieteur News) outlining the complaint to the company. On August 27, 2010, the company responded stating that the company disagreed with the allegations being made against it. In brief, the company found that the reference to ‘King Kong’ was in no way intended to ‘ferment racial strife’ noting that there is racism in the United States of America and that it exists also in Guyana.

The Commission requested a comment from the Guyana Publications Inc (Stabroek News) outlining the complaint to the company and received a response on August 17, 2010 which requested a copy of the original complaint. The Commission requested said information from the Office of the President but to date that has not been received. The Commission has not to date received a response to the complaint from the GPI.

The Commission’s Findings:

Freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 146, (1) of the Guyana Constitution and is one of the celebrated principles of the law. This is not an absolute right however and must be practiced in a responsible manner.  Article 146 (3) of the Constitution, provides that : ‘freedom of expression in this Article does not relate to hate speeches or other expression, in whatever form, capable of exciting ill-will against any person or class of persons.’

The Commission finds that media house have an important role to play in society, and that this obligation includes the carriage of news and opinions that are truthful and not calculated to mislead the public. The Commission notes that in a free democracy where press freedom is paramount, the views and opinions of all persons must be respected and that the media operatives should guard against undue censorship. At the same time this must be balanced with sound editorial oversight, sensitivity, prudence and judgment when going to press.

The Commission finds that while statements of ‘King Kong’ and ‘goons’ may be passing references that may not warrant serious attention, the Commission however finds that sound editorial judgment, scrutiny and consideration should have been  exercised where there are extremist references to ‘fascism’ and ‘Hitler’ and on which there is no basis. Further the Commission is of the view that while arguably, these may be  gross exaggerations, calculated perhaps to shock, it can however be misleading and dangerous. Further that statements like an ‘Indian oligarchy bent on pulverizing the African race’ ‘the dehumanization of an entire race in Guyana’ and ‘Young Africans in Guyana are told in every way …you are inferior. Only someone from a different race can govern you. You are not smart enough. You are not human enough. You are not worthy enough’ are statements that are unacceptable from the point of view of the Ethnic Relations Commission. These in the Commission’s considered review, are views that may be calculated and capable of exciting ill will against a particular ethnic grouping. It also may be in breach of the provision of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 2001, Act No. 1 of 2001. This the National Media and Publishing Company Ltd should guard zealously against and not allow itself to fall prey to persons who perhaps may have a more serious and ominous agenda.  

Exercising an abundance of caution is often required particularly since all should be aware of the grave dangers associated with the reporting of spurious and dangerous claims/opinions that can lead to racial tensions in Guyana. It also serves as a disservice to the work of the Ethnic Relations Commission which has been working tirelessly and without pause to dispel deep entrenched ethnic divisions in this country.

The Commission finds it surprising that when brought to the attention of the National Media and Publishing Company Ltd, the response from the company seems to suggest that there is nothing wrong with such statements.

The Commission is of the view that the statements published in the Stabroek News cannot it seems, withstand  factual scrutiny and should be the subject of greater editorial oversight-which seems to have been lacking in this regard.   

While it is not the role of the Ethnic Relations Commission to expound or promote censorship of the free press, the hall marks of a true democracy, the Commission will not abdicate its constitutional responsibility and allow the public dissemination of dubious and dangerous information under the guise of freedom of information, or the imparting of information and ideas of public interest, without due comment. The Commission is of the view that in a country with population with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, with a shared history, a history which includes division and hate, it does not auger well for responsible media houses to place into the public domain information that is racially charged. 

As this county moves forward and attempts the continued process of race healing and of eliminating the scars of our collective history, the press has its duty, indeed an obligation to be part of this process. This should be to encourage in a plural society respect for all parties and to promote harmony and good will between all ethnicities and this is the mandate of the Ethnic Relations Commission.

Recommendation

It is the recommendation of the Commission that media houses retreat, perhaps under the auspices of the Guyana Press Association or other body, so as to determine the modus operandai of the media houses in the context of articles such as the subject of this review. It is imperative that the media, both press and electronic especially as we approach our general elections settle on the way forward in these matters with a view to determining a code or reviewing of same, and which may guide media practitioners in this regard. The Commission would welcome such an initiative and indeed if required/requested will be happy to be part of such a process.

Further the press houses should familiarize themselves with the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 2001, Act 1 of 2001 and the Racial Hostility Act, Cap. 23:01 and the consequences of breaches to same.

In the interim the Commission urges all media practitioners to exercise due caution and care in its dissemination of information to the public.

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