Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Freedom of speech
(Aired 12 June 2001)

    On the 15th February 1977 Guyana ratified the international Human Rights Covenant on civil and political rights and accepted the optional protocol in 1993.

  1. This optional protocol enabled individuals in this country to complain to the international human rights committee of breaches of rights and freedoms protected under the covenant by public authorities---legislative, executive or judicial.
  2. Guyana has filed only one report since becoming signatories of the covenant, THAT 1982 report was considered by the international Human rights committee as "needing more effective implementation of the covenant's rights in the domestic legal system of Guyana" In other words they required that Guyana amend its constitution or introduce specific legislation, "to give specific effect, within its territory and jurisdiction, to the rights recognised in the covenant" we never did.
  3. Guyana has also NOT RATIFIED the Inter-American convention on HUMAN RIGHTS.
  4. To give effect to the covenant Guyana was required to A. ensure that all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction receive ALL the rights regardless of race colour, sex, Language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. We undertook to adopt such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights recognised in the covenant. Again we never did.
  5. By article 2[3] of this protocol each state that were signatories of the protocol undertook to ensure that ANY [that's ANY] person whose rights and freedoms are violated shall have an effective remedy.
  6. The 1982 Guyana report [the only one we have ever submitted] produced STRONG doubts within the international Human rights committee, as to whether Guyana had fully complied with the covenant's provisions, it also raised questions about whether the independence of the judiciary was being adequately guaranteed. No steps have been taken since 1977 to address this matter to date.
  7. The covenant states very clearly "that everyone will have the right to freedom of expression, this right shall include the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds regardless of frontiers either orally, in writing, or in print, in the form of art, or through any other ‘media' of his choice"
  8. THIS RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH CARRIES WITH IT special duties and responsibilities, and may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall ONLY be such as are provided by LAW and are necessary.

           A. We must respect the rights and reputation of others, and not liable, defame, or hold them up to public contempt, etc in the exercise of our right to free speech, and

B. For the protection of national security or public order or public health, or morals. 

  1. Freedom of speech constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, it is applicable not only to information and ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness WITHOUT which there can be no democracy. [Judgement of the European court of human rights 26th November 1991]
  2.  In a free democratic society it is almost too obvious to state that those who hold office in government and who are responsible for public administration must always be open to criticism, ANY attempt to stifle or fetter such criticism amounts to public censorship of the most insidious kind. Any statutory provisions therefore which criminalizes statements likely to undermine public confidence in the conduct of its public officials, can only be viewed with the UTMOST SUSPICION.
  3. If freedom of expression requires that the communications media be open to ALL views, IDEAS and OPINIONS and no one should be excluded from access to such media, monopolies therefore such as GBC in radio are a fundamental breach of the covenant, I repeat it is a violation of the international human rights covenant. Since the covenant requires a guarantee of a plurality of means of communication.
  4. The pre-eminent role of the press in a state governed by the rule of law must not be forgotten, but if the law cannot provide protection from the media by those aggrieved by it through liable, Defamation, sedition etc then the rule of law has broken down, and so has freedom of speech.
  5. Allowing the media to operate in a state where the rule of law cannot offer the protections guaranteed by the human rights association  which can be the result of free speech but not the mechanisms required to address their abuse in practice. This means that if the rule of law cannot protect persons from libel defamation etc then the state has not met its mandate to provide the legal framework to deal with the issue of free speech. Talk show hosts exist in the form they do in this country, because of the failure of the judicial system to protect those who are the targets of them.  
  6. Unfortunately we have not embarked on a system of strengthening the judiciary to deal with these problems we have been, and are, saying that it is OK to put in place broadcast regulations which ultimately can have the effect to limit freedom of speech. This is wholly unacceptable and I will reject it.  My position is that the rule of law should be reinforced to deal with these issues such as a special judge or magistrate, who will deal expeditiously with the issues of libel, defamation and sedition quickly and efficiently. Broadcast regulations, should only incorporate such requirements that give strength to this process such as all broadcasters being required to keep a record of everything broadcast by that channel/station, this is one of the most fundamental reasons for the break down of the legal system with regards to addressing the abuses of broadcasting in this country, we are not required by law to keep a record of what we broadcast, so the libel goes unnoticed or unproven, this should change immediately and tapes of all programming with local input must be kept and be made available to the courts to address these problems as they arise.
  7. Freedom of the press affords the public one of the best means of discovering and forming an opinion of the ideas and attitudes of its political leaders, in particular it gives politicians the opportunity to reflect and comment on the preoccupation of public opinion; it enables everyone to participate in the free political debate which is at the very core of the very concept of a democratic society, the limits of criticism of a politician acting in his official capacity is therefore wider than in relation to a private individual. A politician inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to scrutiny of HIS EVERY WORD OR DEED by journalists and the public at large and MUST THEREFORE DISPLAY A GREATER DEGREE OF TOLERANCE.