How Stabroek News Opposed Roger Khan
by Rakesh Rampertab

"The highest accolade a newspaper can achieve is is essential that they learn to trust your reporting. They must be convinced that you are trying to report the news of the day fairly, to tell the truth, that you have no private agenda."
                                     ——David de Caires, Editor-in-Chief of Stabroek News, Anthony Sabga Essay Series No. 2*

."I get e-mails all the time from members of the Guyanese Diaspora who tell me that they can't get their letters analyzing my articles published in the Stabroek News...The Stabroek News is certainly an entity that wants little to do with me. I usually reply to those mails advising the letter-writers to complain to the Guyana Press Association."
                                —Frederick Kissoon, "You Can't Please Them All," Kaieteur News, July 17, 2006.

"Tell the tale properly and let people form their own opinion, never try to tell them what to think. It is patronising and highly unprofessional."
                               — David de Caires, November 2004, Trinidad speech to journalists.

"You have to be very vigilant, don't read their newspaper if they are not going to represent your views accurately because that is what they are."
                       —President Jagdeo in Albion, speaking out against Stabroek News during Vote 2006 campaign, July 2006


The Editor-in-Chief of Stabroek News (SN), Mr. David De Caires, once advised fellow media workers; “We have to earn the trust of our readers and listeners, to convince them that we have no private agenda…” However, scrutiny of the print coverage of the riveting Roger Khan saga shows that Stabroek compromised its journalism as it took a position of aroused opposition against Mr. Khan, including specifically worded news reports and censoring of letters to shape public opinion against Khan, while protecting others such as Commissioner Felix and Chief of Staff Edward Collins.

Lead Stories: Ever since the first controversial “tape” surfaced, almost every report mentioned the Good Hope Trio as if Stabroek had evidence that Khan made these recordings. Only because of the law has Stabroek not declared boldly that Khan created the "tapes." Unlike other papers, it absurdly ran its lead story (03/21) without a transcript or substantial quotes/extracts, so as to prevent citizens from reading what Mr. Felix said, allegedly.

But the second “tape” forced Stabroek to provide a partial transcript (June 1), as the PNC responded to part of its contents. Still determined to protect the commissioner, Stabroek offered in addition, a summary of the transcript (in Creole), as if we needed a translator to understand Creole. And in its summary, Stabroek manipulated the dialogue to safeguard the commissioner.

Here is an example. Commissioner Felix allegedly said; “But wha I gan do is call narcotics and leh deh put drug pun she!” In translation, Stabroek wrote; “A promise was then made to work on the issue immediately.” The paper replaced incriminating words like “narcotics,” “put,” and “drugs” with weak words such as “promise,” “work,” and “issue” and therefore reduced the seriousness of the allegation.

Since May 24, Stabroek began to publish the security-oriented opinions of one Robert Gates, an investigator. Despite the seriousness of the Khan story, and its implications on national security, Stabroek did not solicit any second or counter-opinion. Strangely, the Stabroek-Gates team never provided security tips about the Buxton gangs.

When one reader (C. Urling, SN, 06/15) complained that Stabroek was compromising its journalism to bring the “scoop” on Khan, the paper lashed out saying that Gates was credible. But time caught up with Stabroek and Gates. On May 14, Gates predicted that “tapes” featuring Minister Gail Teixeira would be released. He confidently promised to “bring ball by ball commentary” on each. For the records, no “tapes” have been released to date.

Interestingly, Stabroek, in haste to make the news instead of bringing the news, had lied about Mr. Gates, saying that he worked on a few “cases” with a US-trained criminologist, when Gates merely took a few “courses” with him. Gates was honest to note this error. Naturally, given the embarrassment, Stabroek took a few days before admitting its blunder, doing so as a mere “editor’s note” to a letter instead of an obvious errata (correction) statement.

This is one example of journalism at Stabroek being compromised. It happened again when Stabroek replaced the original bearded picture of Khan with one of him in Surinam, subdued and in handcuffs, as a permanent fixture for about two weeks almost as if Stabroek wanted to humiliate Khan’s family. If the paper wanted to reduce the mysterious, feared perception of Khan, it achieved instead overkill that pointed to “private agendas” and not ethical photo journalism.

A third example is linked to the Sash Sawh murder, which many believed to have been done by the Buxton gangs. Of course, some have tried to blame Roger Khan. Stabroek, as if to shield the Buxton gangs and their political affiliates from attention, tried to separate the murder from the Buxton gangs, by seeing it as anything but an “assassination.” In fact, it was the elder son of the late minister that objected to what Stabroek tried to do in its follow-up report (“What should have been joyous week for Sawhs to be spent on reflection,” June 14) on the family.

Let us turn to young Sawh: “However, I also hastened to mention that, of all the hypotheses, political motivation seemed to be the most likely source. This part of my conversation with the said reporter was, for reasons unbeknownst to me, omitted” (Roger Kaviraj Sawh, SN, June 17).

Censorship of Letters: Recently, Kaieteur News editorialized that the Roger Khan saga was a “litmus test of the local media’s commitment to fairness and balance” in journalism (KN 06/30). Stabroek underperformed, failing the public in order to satisfy a selected crowd. And it did so especially with undue censorship, which has always been an invisible manner by which Stabroek strategically manipulates the shaping of public opinion according to positions taken by the paper.

Between late March and June (the Khan saga), Stabroek censored letters that spoke favorably of Roger Khan and/or the alleged “phantoms.” During this period, Stabroek refused to publish 5 of 6 letters from me. In one strange case, on April 19, Stabroek published someone’s letter titled, “How could these weapons be missing since 2001?” But when I, on May 18th, submitted one titled, “Questions for Chief of Staff Collins,” it was rejected outright.

I implore the public to verify what I write herein; one is encouraged to examine especially letters from March 25-May 30, wherein one would discover the particular absence of East Indians’ opinion on Roger Khan. In fact, using its digital (online) archive, I believe about 14 letters were published on Khan (out of at least some 200). Of these, 5 or so spoke favorable of Khan; that is, 5 out of 200 on one of our most extraordinary stories, ever!

By tradition and in contrast, Stabroek publishes opinions in favor of the Buxton gangs/“masterminds.” The views of Mr. Tacuma Ogunseye, their unofficial spokesperson, are not censored, although Stabroek is aware or strongly suspect that these individuals are linked to murder, rape, sodomy, kidnapping, exodus, arson, torture, and the advocacy of uprising against East Indians, law enforcement figures, and the government. It should not object to such letters, but be open to all views.

It should be noted by readers of Guyanese news that Stabroek does not favor East Indian people or opinions to be found amongst them; and I dare to say that the Khan saga has without a doubt reflected this reality. There has not been any East Indian columnist writing consistently and openly under an East Indian name in Stabroek on political or social issues such as crime, between Elections 2001 and Elections 2006.

East Indians cannot get an article into Stabroek News that touches on politics and crime as someone like certain WPA figures, including, strangely, those who are not truly WPA stalwarts. In time, whether East Indians, not being able to find their views or stories in this paper during critical moments (although they may buy it or advertise in it), would take a stand against Stabroek and its barbed-wire journalism, is yet to be seen.

If there is a boycott of Stabroek News, it would not be unreasonable. That said, I fear that print journalism itself has broken the barriers, and is heading for the foothills. The late Desmond Hoyte was right; no one can “out paper” Stabroek News.

[Editor's Note: *See "Journalism shows how personal and professional integrity are crucial to the idea of excellence" from the Anthony N. Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence Essay Series, No. 2, July 2nd, 2006, Stabroek News. A shorter version of this article was published in the Chronicle on July 29, 2006.]


July 28, 2006
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