Tony Vieira's Comments
22 October 2017

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Freedom of Speech, Covenants
(Aired 6 July 2011)

   This country is supposed to have freedom of speech but the freedom of speech rights enshrined in our constitution is being eroded by the ERC and the PPP under the guise that such speech is causing ethnic strife and public disorder. Does the ERC go to the PPP bottom house meetings and listen to what the PPP functionaries are saying to their supporters in every village in the country? Given what I know goes on at these meetings, I think that they should, but only when the ERC becomes legal.

   Tonight because the ERC continues to attack everyone, since apparently we must see all sorts of deprivation of rights and say nothing, I am forced to go over the fundamentals of freedom of speech. Which I laid out for you some years ago.

    On the 15th February 1977 Guyana ratified the international Human Rights Covenant on civil and political rights and accepted the optional protocol in 1993. Here is a point by point analysis of each element of the covenant:

  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 1980 constitution or introduce specific legislation, "to give specific effect, within its territory and jurisdiction, to the rights recognised in the covenant" I don't believe that we ever did. If we did the situation becomes more serious since having signed and not implementing these provisions, we are guilty of a very serious offence against fundamental freedoms.
  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. i.e. 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! These people say that they brought democracy back here in 1992!! Where is it?
  5. By article 2[3] of this protocol each country which 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. Anyone want to volunteer to get a remedy in our courts?
  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, when the covenant first surfaced, 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.

i.e. 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 must repeat this, it is a violation of the international human rights covenant which we signed to have a monopoly in radio. 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 to 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 can be the result of free speech without the legal mechanisms required to address its 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 consequences of abuse of free speech, then the rule of law has allowed it to do so. 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. In 2011 we allocated 1.5 billion to the Ministry of culture and Sport in the national budget but we only allocated 1 billion to the Supreme Court including the Magistrates courts. I have nothing against sports and culture but isn't this ridiculous? No wonder the courts do not work they ate being deprived of funds to function efficiently in the interest of our people. Better salaries for the registrar workers, better conditions and salaries for the Judges, Magistrates etc. could change things considerably and less interference by the executive in legal matters before the courts would change it profoundly. 
  6. Unfortunately we have not embarked on a system of strengthening the judiciary to deal with these problems; the government has 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 will be rejected.  My position is that the rule of law should be reinforced to deal with these issues such as a special judge/s, 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 the 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 for 3 months at least, so the libel goes unnoticed or unproven, this should change immediately and tapes of all programming with local input [I don't see the need to keep recordings of programs not produced in Guyana and don't have local input] must be kept and be made available to the courts to address these problems as they arise. I want to emphasise that I wrote this several years ago when I had CH 28 my feelings have not changed these are the things you regulate on behalf of the public interest, convenience, and necessity. Not to conspire to revoke the privilege to freedom of speech. Which is what this undemocratic government has sought to do with all of the broadcast bills they have introduced up to now. It is not only I who said so UNESCO's Mordacai and Lord Lester of the International Human Rights Association said so since 1996 to Nagamootoo's first bill!
  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 to examination and criticism.

    So this is what freedom of speech is all about ladies and gentlemen not to reduce public discourse by prior censorship to a level where it solves nothing, due to muzzling of the media by the government and the ERC.