Stabroek News will forever be defined by its birth pangs from an authoritarian womb. The last free and fair elections prior to 1992 were held in December 1964. The PPP obtained 45.8 percent of the votes and 24 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The PNC obtained 40.5 percent and 22 seats. The UF won 12.4 percent of the votes and 7 seats.
Elections from 1968 onwards were rigged. The results in December 1968 gave the PNC 55.81 percent of the votes and 30 seats, while the PPP was given 36.49 percent of the votes and 19 seats in the National Assembly. At the general elections of July 1973, the PNC gave itself a two-third majority. The ‘results’ showed that the PNC ‘obtained’ 70.10 percent of the votes and 37 seats, while the PPP was reduced to 26.56 percent and 14 seats. After those elections, the independent press was starved of newsprint and vendors were assaulted. The Mirror, a 16 page daily was reduced to a twice-weekly 8-page edition. The Catholic Standard was similarly reduced and Dayclean and Open Word disappeared. Violence against opposition activists assumed larger proportions. All of this culminated with the June 1980 assassination of Walter Rodney.
In December 1980, general elections were held. The PNC gave itself 77.66 percent of the votes and 41 seats and gave the PPP 19.46 percent and 10 seats. The next general elections of December 1985 confirmed Desmond Hoyte in power, having succeeded President Burnham who had died in August. The PNC took 78.54 of the votes and 43 seats and gave the PPP 15.77 percent and 8 seats. The election results of 1992, which were the first free and fair elections since 1964, exposed the scale of the rigging. The PPP obtained 53.45 percent of the votes and 28 seats while the PNC obtained 42.31 percent of the votes and 23 seats.
By the time Desmond Hoyte assumed office in 1985, the economy had degenerated considerably. In 1988, the Government entered into an ERP (Economic Recovery Programme) agreement with the IMF. Its immediate impact from the 300 percent devaluation was devastating. It intensified poverty which reached 60 percent of the population and wiped out the middle class. In 1989, the McIntyre Report concluded that the Guyana economy was “now ranked below Haiti as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” It was against this background of wide resistance that Desmond Hoyte agreed to allow the Stabroek News to publish.
The story of the challenges that founding editor, David deCaires and his wife, Doreen, together with Ken Gordon of Trinidad and other friends, is well known. Starting out as a weekly, printed in Trinidad, it eventually emerged as the most popular daily newspaper of record, with its own printing press in Guyana, after aggressively promoting democracy and free and fair elections as well as the Government’s ERP. Its pro-business orientation which has survived to the present, and is not as out of place today as it was in the 1980s, was not an obstacle to its enthusiastic support by the PPP, which welcomed its campaign for democracy and free and fair elections. Of course, it earned the hostility of the PNC because of these editorial postures.
But like all serious, credible and independent newspapers, which strive to sustain its independence, the Stabroek News continued to step on toes. The PPP which, in opposition, had been a friend of the newspaper, came to view the Stabroek News as an enemy while it was in Government. The feeling of hostility became so pronounced that in 2006 the PPP Government discontinued its advertisements in the Stabroek News on which it had relied for a significant source of its income. It was the same PPP that had obtained wide international solidarity in the early 1970s when the Mirror was deprived of newsprint. The advertisements were only restored when the Guyana Times, a pro-PPP newspaper, appeared on the scene and the Government wanted to support it with advertisements.
The PPP’s attitude to the Stabroek News has now been reversed once again. No doubt this is because it takes an objective position to the APNU+AFC Government and criticizes whenever it feels that the circumstances justify it. It also now regularly publishes press conferences by General Secretary of the PPP, former President Bharrat Jagdeo, and also frequent letters from former President Donald Ramotar and former Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee.
The PNCR, which was also happy with the Stabroek News between 1992 and 2015, when the PPP/C was in Government, is now quite upset. Finance Minister Winston Jordan’s recent broadside by way of letter in the Stabroek News, attempting to support his arguments with personal aspersions and attacks on its deceased founding editor, has now fully exposed the APNU-AFC’s attitude of hostility.
Each of the main parties supports the Stabroek News when in opposition and opposes it when in Government. Their position vis-à-vis the Guyana Chronicle is the exact opposite. Our politicians need to drop their absurd opportunism towards the Stabroek News, which is a major bulwark against a return to the period which gave birth to it, which many now fear.