The controversy surrounding the issue of radio and cable licences by the last administration in its dying days, adopted and defended by this administration, is not going away. Apart from a tepid intervention suggesting that President Jagdeo was keeping a promise to open up the airwaves, the Government has made little attempt to launch a proactive defence of Dr. Jagdeo. The result is that there have been demonstrations, protests, statements, newspaper advertisements and more, decrying not only the manner and timing of the issue but the persons to whom the issue was made, alleging bias and nepotism. Some of the criticisms have been egregiously vilifying.
The reluctance of the Government to take on the critics of the licences issue is mystifying when contrasted with its vigorous support for Dr. Jagdeo’s comments on the resurgence of anti-Indian sentiments or the loud and sustained campaign in opposition to the Budget cuts. Admittedly the latter are far more immediate and impactful than the issue of the licences. But the muted defence of Dr. Jagdeo, muted despite the Attorney General’s belated claim that the licences have a fair ethnic and geographic spread, is still rather surprising having regard to the daily dose of demonization delivered by the press.
As President, Dr. Jagdeo was always a keen student of public relations. While he never passed up an opportunity to exploit the positive impact of good news, he almost always ensured that he or his administration answered, responded to, deflected, or explained away every criticism or negative news or comment. A more flexible creativity in managing this process was prevented by Dr. Jagdeo’s tendency to favour a uniformly robust and aggressive approach to criticism. Nevertheless, response there was. While the presidential platform is no longer available to him, it is still available to his Party which has adopted his decision and that is why the virtual silence is inexplicable.
Or is it that there is no credible political, as opposed to legal, defence to the manner and timing of the issue and the beneficiaries of the largesse? If there is not, should not there have been some indication that the Government is taking steps to cut its losses from this public relations disaster which has befallen it with no end in sight?
Both the PPP and Government are aware that the bad news of any kind, including natural disasters, is bad for politicians in office. That is why there is constant criticism of the press for reporting crimes on the front page, while it is alleged that in countries with tourist economies, such as Barbados, crimes are reported in the inner pages. Public relations experts advise that bad news should be off the front pages or even out of the press as fast as possible. Yet the PPP and Government, adept at public relations, are allowing the press to roast Dr. Jagdeo, daily. There has been no real attempt to treat with this matter in such a way as to silence the critics or to remove the matter from their purview.
The culture of the PPP often stands in the way of sensible compromise. Every serious person in Guyana, including the PPP leadership, knew that talking to the Opposition about the Budget would have resulted in much less dissention and a much more constructive result, even if the Budget may not have passed fully intact. But no talks took place. The reason is that when the PPP is confronted with criticism or the potential for criticism, it circles the wagons, closes ranks and shuts out all fresh air. It becomes paralysed into angry inaction. It feels that any talks, much less compromise, would be such a gross and humiliating exposure of weakness that it will crumble, collapse and lose power like it did in the 1960s. No one should underestimate the iron grip of this culture of deep fear on the psyche of the PPP. Of course there are many other underlying factors, such as ethnic composition and others but these are beyond the scope of this article.
There is an urgent need to end the controversy of the licences where it is dripping daily poison against Dr. Jagdeo and the Government. There is an equally the need to end the court proceedings. The outcome would be uncertain and it would give the matter a public life of unendurable longevity. Are Dr. Jagdeo and the Government prepared for this? Are they prepared to lose the case, a possibility with all court matters? Is it not better politically to cut your losses? Dr. Jagdeo has never backed down from or conceded anything or any argument, however trivial. But that was when he was President. This matter is harming him and the Party. With some creative public relations accompanying the withdrawal of the licences, everyone can emerge without suffering any humiliation and with dignity intact.
The licences should be withdrawn.