It was an exclusive gathering: the opening of a new Indian restaurant, the Maharaja Palace. The great and the good, and the Cabinet, were there.
I was ushered behind the curtain to meet my newly decorated friend (we went to primary school together) Charles Ramsom SC OR.
President Jagdeo (below) greeted me warmly, as did president-to-be Ramotar. There is the small matter of a general election later this year. Most interesting to me in the presidential boudoir were his media friends. There is a state-financed TV and radio station – the National Communications Network (NCN) – which they think is like the BBC. But, with pure pro-government stories on both news and ‘discussion programmes’, it is not.
Writes John Mair…
There’s a state newspaper, too, the Guyana Chronicle, which cynics call ‘The Chronic’ – it has a low circulation.
In one corner of the boudoir was Dr ‘Bobby’ Ramroop. He is a close friend of the President, an entrepreneur and the owner of the Guyana Times and a TV station, TVG Channel 28.
The paper, printed on machines brought in duty free, aims to be highbrow but ends up rather stodgy and internet-dependent. Circulation is not high. Its journalists also work on Channel 28’s Evening News, based at a huge biscuit tin of a building in one of the main avenues of Georgetown.
I went to see it. The news is pre-recorded (!) and tends to favour the government. But it’s made in a very glossy way – more professional that NCN. Bobby, a doctor by training and a manufacturer of over-the-counter drugs, has done well for and by the President. He is very rich
So too inside the boudoir: the Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, and his wife, Kamini. They own Channel 65, based in a bazaar building close by the High Court in the capital. Their ‘News Update’ (which updates nothing) each night takes the Jagdeo/PPP line too. Unlike Channel 28, Channel 65 is mainly Indian programming -begged or borrowed.
As is Channel 69 – which will also support the PPP in the upcoming election. The boss of that, Brama Persaud, was seated just outside the boudoir. His station is pure Bollywood but now includes a new face, Joel Ghansham, the first openly camp/gay person on Guyanese TV. Homosexuality is illegal in this very conservative society. Joel makes Larry Grayson look straight. He MCed at the opening of the restaurant and competed with President Jagdeo for photo opps.
Small country. Most of the pro-government broadcasters were all in the same restaurant. Broadcasting here is the continuation of politics by other means.
And the Indian food in the Maharaja Palace? Well, I’ve had better in north Oxford.
John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University, and a former BBC producer. He has spent May as a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Guyana.