Mr. Glenroy Blanchette – People’s Action Movement
Basseterre, St. Kitts – Nevis
November 17, 2009
I am not surprised that Prime Minister Denzil L. Douglas has refused to sign the Code of Conduct for the Political Process jointly issued by the Christian Councils and Evangelical Associations in St. Kitts and Nevis, and the St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Commerce. Freedom of speech is not an accepted concept in dictatorial and autocratic regimes.
One important aspect of the Code of Conduct is the agreement that independent candidates and political parties should be given equal time on the National Broadcasting Service so that they can present their electoral platform to the people. To date, the Government has refused to allow opposition parties to access ZIZ Radio and Television. The state media is being abused by the ruling political party as evidenced by its partisan news and call-in programmes. Citizens are continuously fed a diet of lies propaganda which is designed to demonize opposition parties.
Parliamentary democracy is supposed to involve public participation in the process of governance. People must be informed in order to participate effectively. Such information must not only come from the Government.
The long arms of government are even stretching into the operations of private media entities. This is a very dangerous situation. The backdoor maneuvers to gain control of Sugar City Rock are typical of what happens in some countries where control of the media is used to prop up unpopular leaders.
According to Ann Cooper, CPJ Executive Director, “When the state controls all media, opposition voices doesn’t get heard, and critical analysis of the government’s performance is hidden from the public.”
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan went further when he opined that access to state media is, “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on the public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
There is a long established democratic principle that people have a right to dissent. Therefore, democratic governments must facilitate the expression of alternative points of view so that the entire society can have an opportunity to hear all sides and be adequately informed.
The barring of opposition parties from the state media is denying the public’s right to know and hence, is creating a one party state. Undoubtedly, this runs contrary to the spirit and letter of our constitution which guarantees citizens freedom of speech.
Sadly, many individuals and institutions choose to remain silent on such an important and fundamental issue. It is time that the Douglas-led Administration be told to free up the state media. The time for change is now.