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There is a `sort of' freedom of the press in Guyana 

Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Dear Editor, 

At a recent Human Rights Conference, one of my colleagues asked if Guyana had freedom of the press. My answer to that question initially baffled the congregation when I responded with "sort of". Naturally, I had to explain my answer: 

I find there is a justifiable fear within the media in Guyana to be very mindful of being too critical of the government. An example was when the Stabroek News Sunday Editor took a bold stand and commented on the Mandela shootings. Immediately, the C.I.D. dispatched its resources to create an intimidating atmosphere for the newspaper. 

Also, it is customary for the newspapers in Guyana to edit any letters that are submitted to their letter column- for fear of reprisals. The letter columns should be the last resort where people should be able to be candid about their concerns but unfortunately, it is severely censored. 

I suppose in its defence, the newspaper will argue that they are promoting responsible journalism. However, editing letters is not journalism in the least. To safeguard itself against lawsuits, the paper can simply put a disclaimer that notifies the public that the letters are not of their opinion and solely of the writers. 

Needless to say, my colleagues were very surprised that this so-called democratic country had such traits of a communist state. 

Incidentally, I don't expect this letter to be published in light of what I just said. 

Yours faithfully, 
Berkeley Van Bowen 
International Human Rights Watch 

Editor's note 
Newspapers all over the world edit letters for content, style, taste, accuracy and libel, not for `fear of reprisals', whatever that might mean, but out of their responsibility as publishers. 

Publication of a `disclaimer' has absolutely no effect legally on a newspaper's liability for anything published. 

The media in Guyana enjoy exceptional freedom to publish and broadcast.