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Dear Editor,
THE attorney general (AG) and minister of legal affairs refers to the headline in Stabroek News dated Thursday, 21st March, 2019: ‘Press Association calling on AG to apologise for attack on Stabroek News.’

The AG refutes the allegation of the Guyana Press Association (GPA) that he attacked the Stabroek News. The AG recognises the significant role that the press plays in a democratic society. Therefore, whether their reports are favourable to the government or not, they are integral to the democratic process that enables our citizens to be informed and become active participants in society. However, while recognising the role of the media, the AG strongly condemns the peddling of false information by the media that seeks to besmirch the characters of persons and communicate anything other than the truth to the Guyanese people.

This conduct is unethical and should be called out by all who stand for the truth. The AG notes the threat by the Guyana Press Association to boycott any press-related event held by him.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs has Qualified Privilege
The AG did not attack the Stabroek News as asserted by the GPA, but rather was responding to attacks on his character and the work of the Attorney General’s Chambers and Ministry of Legal Affairs. The GPA’s letter failed to disclose that the AG’s response to Stabroek News was in response to the publication by the Stabroek News of a letter written by Clement Rohee, titled: “Judge exercised enormous amount of patience with Mr Williams” dated Monday, February 25, 2019 and other articles libelling the AG for instance, “Solicitor General Resigns” dated Thursday, February 21, 2019; “Jagdeo laments sloth in hearing of no-confidence appeals,” dated Monday, February 25, 2019; and “Hearing of AG’s confidence ruling stay applications set for Thursday,” dated Tuesday, February 26, 2019. The GPA was also silent on these articles and the untruth they contained.

By law, the AG has qualified privilege to respond to any reports or articles about him and about the Attorney General’s Chambers and Ministry of Legal Affairs. The defence of qualified privilege permits persons in positions of authority  to repel statements that would be considered slanderous and libellous. He has the right to defend his personal reputation, as well as the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs should not be prevented from disseminating information
Additionally, in accordance with Article 146(1) of the Constitution, the AG has the right to disseminate information to the Guyanese people. This Article states, “Except with his or her own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference and freedom from interference with his or her correspondence.”

Since coming into office, the AG has taken a strong stand against corruption and for combatting-money laundering, countering the financing of terrorism and countering the financing of the weapons of mass destruction and other transnational crimes. Many laws have been passed in this regard and seminars were held countrywide. This is in line with the policy objectives of the government and the AG has been able, together with his team to remove Guyana from blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and the Delegation of the European Union (EU).
Accordingly, a boycott of the AG’s work will prevent this information which demonstrates the zero tolerance policy of the government against corruption, money laundering, countering the financing of terrorism and countering the financing of weapons of mass destruction and other transnational crimes from reaching the Guyanese people. Furthermore, a boycott of the AG’s work is a boycott of the government.

Press Association’s failure to Reprimand Stabroek News for unethical conduct
The AG also takes note of the fact that the Guyana Press Association did not reprimand the Stabroek News for its libellous headline and story, namely, “Solicitor General Resigns” dated Thursday, 21st February, 2019. One of the objectives of the GPA as detailed in their constitution is “(iii) To encourage and foster the observance of high professional standards by its members and to establish and prescribe such standards.” Moreover, in paragraph 22 of the constitution of the Guyana Press Association, the ‘Declaration of Principles and the Conduct of Journalists’ is set out. The principles are, “Proclaimed as a standard of professional conduct for journalists engaged in the gathering, presenting, disseminating and commenting on news and information and in describing events.” These principles speak of respect for the truth, the need to present the public with the truth and honest collection and publication of the news.

However, Stabroek News (SN) failed sorely in this regard by hastily and without verification publishing that the solicitor-general had resigned, which was contrary to the truth. The SN did not deem it fit to fact check and solicit a comment from the solicitor-general, the permanent secretary or the AG. Instead, when threatened with a lawsuit for libel, they offered what can only be deemed as a backhanded apology to the solicitor-general.
Despite their breach of the Declaration of Principles and Conduct of Journalists stated in the GPA constitution, the GPA did not in keeping with their objective of promoting high professional standards call out the Stabroek News for its report. The GPA was also silent on the following articles in the Stabroek News and the untruth they contained, namely “Judge exercised enormous amount of patience with Mr Williams” by Clement Rohee, and other articles libelling the AG for instance, the articles “Hearing of AG’s confidence ruling stay applications set for Thursday” dated Tuesday, February 26, 2019, and “Jagdeo laments sloth in hearing of no-confidence appeals,” dated Monday, February 25, 2019.

Whether GPA has the remit to seek an apology on Stabroek News behalf?

The request by the GPA for an apology on behalf of Stabroek News raises the question whether this is within their remit. The GPA constitution does not offer any clarity on the matter. However, it is of concern that the GPA would request such an apology when Stabroek News itself never officially or personally in any correspondence requested an apology, especially since the GPA may not be privy to detailed information or circumstances surrounding this issue. The words to which the GPA purportedly took umbrage were used in a context that could not amount to any vituperation. On the other hand, it appears that the GPA has no problem with an article appearing in the Kaiteur News on page 9 of the Monday, 6th March, 2019 edition, captioned: ‘Guyana is getting shafted.’ It is not my intention to interpret the connotation of this phrase, but it is not difficult to convince a person that the GPA is selective in its judgment or elective in these circumstances and clearly demonstrates a manifestation of bias.

History of relations with Stabroek News and Prime News
In any event, the proposal of a boycott of the AG in their publications is puerile. The Stabroek News and Prime News do not give any media coverage to the AG, save and except for unfavourable coverage. For instance, they have never referred to the attorney general in his capacity as chairman of CFATF. Only last week, in reporting on the United States State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report in their paper, they failed to attribute any of Guyana’s successes to the attorney general.
The GPA must see its remit as being that of a higher and perpetual retainer engendering sound and professional conduct on behalf of its members.

Regards,
Attorney General’s Chambers and
Ministry of Legal Affairs