by Vidyaratha Kissoon
“De glue, de glue.. “ the fish vendor used to tell me as he threw the fish bladder into a bucket. He hinted at ‘runnings’ when I asked what they used it for. I got the impression that Fish glue was used somehow in the cocaine trade. The fish vendor it seemed did not ask any questions and did not challenge my assumptions.
The big arrest in 2007 confirmed for me that fish glue to package the cocaine. Or something like that.
A student did an online journalism assignment on the fish bladder/glue trade from Guyana. Fish glue is used for looking after the skin and other things. There is an export market to China. The fish glue is really not about cocaine.
But the way stories work, the current Google search results for ‘fish glue guyana’ show the cocaine story. There are some generated links to places which might have fish glue from Guyana but they do not seem to lead to any more stories.
How much does fish glue export contribute to the local economy? Does Prime Minister Nagamootoo as the custodian of public information in Guyana keep and share that kind of information?
Other students did an assignment which looked at the economics of festivals in Guyana. They talked to kite makers whose work is seasonal. Politicians hand out kites. The students asked some public officials about the cost of the kites and the origins of the kites. The students said the officials did not want to tell them.
Guyana has an Access to Information Act. However, there is a circus with the Government and the Commissioner of Information which continues to hinder implementation. It might be deliberate as there are many people who seem to fear public scrutiny. The young Chair of the GPHC Board described the unexpected decision of the MPs to go into the GPHC bond as ‘mischief’.
There might be other public spaces which have no problem with random visits by people or their ‘elected representatives’.
Access to Information is one of the things which is used to calculate the World Press Freedom Index.
The freedom of the press is linked to the public’s right to know and have access to information. In other words, the right to know about how fish glue and its uses apart from cocaine, and the costs associated with the Government distribution of kites. Or the exact nature of the mess with the shortage of drugs in the public health system and what is being done to reduce the shortages.
The World Press Freedom Index does not measure the quality of journalism. The index is prepared by Reporters Without Borders.
The people who calculate the index asked in the question sent to experts
“Is access to public information guaranteed by law?
1) Yes (1)
2) No (2)
3) Don’t know (99)”
Guyana would score Yes. There is no question or nuance of if there is any janjhat with the implementation of the law, or the effectiveness of the law.
The areas used to evaluate the 2017 are :-
Media independence –
Environment and self-censorship
Transparency of institutions
Level of abuse experienced by journalists
The Government of Guyana were not happy with the 2017 press freedom index. The Guyana Chronicle had an editorial asking Reporters without Borders to visit Guyana to interact with journalists and officials. The Chronicle editorial noted that is not Guyana alone that dropped in the index, but also “developed countries such as Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, “.
Reporters Without Borders did say that the 2017 index showed an “ increase in the number of countries where the media freedom situation is very grave and highlights the scale and variety of the obstacles to media freedom throughout the world.
The Chronicle editorial did not say though, that Trinidad and Tobago jumped 10 places in the Index. Or that Jamaica is eighth in the world for press freedom. Suriname also ranks high. Did the editorial writer know about about Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago ?
Interestingly, in December 2016, the Press Association of Jamaica has expressed concerns about Prime Minister Holness’ refusal to face the media. The Guyana Press Association had also expressed similar concerns about President Granger’s refusal to face the media.
It seems that press freedom rankings do not have much to do with how much the leaders of the country face the media.
So what is the difference between Jamaica and Guyana? There are no details in terms of how the experts answered the questions and what are the issues which make Jamaica so much better than Guyana and the other developed countries. How has this freedom of the press impacted on the ability of the Jamaica citizen to progress?
Reporters without Borders relies on ‘experts’ to provide answers to their questionnaires. There is no indication of how experts are identified by RWB. A cynical part of me wondered if the Jamaican and Trinidadian experts were united in ensuring that Jamaica and Trinidad internal dutty story is kept internal.
I am an ‘expert’ involved in another index with the V-Dem project. The project co-ordinators told me that I was recommended by a lecturer at the University of Guyana. They said my responses are statistically compared with others. I have to express degrees of confidence in the responses to the questions. I also have indicated that they could name me if they are asked who is involved in the project from Guyana. So I hope that there are are checks and balances involved in calculating indices.
Guyana’s Press Freedom Index was increasing until the drop this year. The chart below shows the trend. (
What caused the drastic increase in ranking from 2008 to the highest it has ever been in 2009? And what caused the drop to 2010? Were different experts used to answer the questionnaire?
What has suddenly declined in Guyana as it relates to press freedom? What are the predictions as the Coalition Government gets more comfortable in office? What has to be done to improve the ranking? How important is this ranking to Guyana anyway? What are the specific things Guyana has to do to become on par with Jamaica in terms of press freedom? How can Guyana connect a higher ranking of press freedom with improving the quality of journalism? What is the role of citizens who are not journalists? Who has the answers to these questions?