In what is being called one of the worst acts of abuse of power in decades, outgoing President Bharrat Jagdeo has banned a Guyanese opposition television station from operating for four straight months, just days before he names a date for general elections due by the end of this year.
Opposition parties and rights groups are not hiding their thoughts that Jagdeo’s move was deliberately timed to kill off a main media outlet for opposition parties to give his governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) an easier chance of winning a fifth consecutive five-year term.
Jagdeo’s office announced the four-month ban late Friday following a meeting between Chandra Narine Sharma, owner of CNS TV-6. This is the second four-month shut own of the station in the past two years and the third in the past year. Sharma is also facing child sex abuse cases in court.
Sharma, a perennial presidential candidate and popular television talk show host, has not made up his mind yet whether he will challenge the ruling but he did say that local courts took six months to rule on his four-month suspension last year “so I don’t know if it makes any sense to do so.”
Sharma, 61, is accused of airing a commentary by opposition businessman and former TV station owner Tony Vieira that allegedly slandered and libelled Bishop Juan Edghill earlier this year.
Edghill, head of the Ethnic Relations Commission is a close confidant of Jagdeo and recently chaired proceedings at an appreciation held for Jagdeo at the national stadium last month. Jagdeo is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.
The ban came despite dozens of public apologies from Sharma and station management and the scrubbing of programs by opposition critics, all in the unsuccessful hope of appeasing the head of state.
In the past, the station had given generous air time to opposition parties and commentators and its call-in programs were regarded as a credible outlet for the public to vent frustrations on issues from bad roads to cabinet decisions, to narco trafficking.
Opposition parties, including the seven-party main opposition coalition, A Partnership For National Unity (APNU), have all expressed outrage.
“I do not believe that a single person should be able to overrule a media house in that way; should be able to keep a media house off the airwaves for such a long period of time without the opportunity for the operator of that media house to appeal the decision before the courts,” said presidential candidate and retired Brig. General David Granger.
The move comes as parties continue to accuse government of abusing state finances, vehicles, state television and radio to give itself every advantage over other parties.
The likely election date is the end of next month or early December, to get it over with before the busy Christmas holiday season.