PASSING OF A SYMBOL OF COURAGE
By Rickey Singh
February 1, 2004
*(The following is a reprint of `Our Caribbean’ column by the writer as published in the Barbados 'Weekend Nation')
HUNDREDS OF mourners filed into the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Georgetown Thursday for the funeral of the Guyanese Jesuit, Fr. Andrew Morrison, perhaps the best known, most courageous and controversial journalist-priest of the Caribbean Community. In failing health at 84, he died in hospital on Monday.
His fame as a brave and consistent champion for press freedom, electoral democracy and social justice evolved over the 18 years he edited the weekly `Catholic Standard’ of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Georgetown. It was a turbulent period in Guyana's social and political history under the rule of the now main opposition People's National Congress (PNC).
'Andy', as he was fondly known, managed to blend normal pastoral duties with his editorship of the Catholic Standard. It was often starved for newsprint and faced with numerous libel suits under the administrations of the late Presidents Forbes Burnham and Desmond Hoyte.
As noted by the privately-owned Stabroek News on Wednesday, Morrison became editor of the Catholic Standard in 1976 "at a time of growing repression and curtailment of press freedom in Guyana...He raised the newspaper from being a purely parochial paper to one that took on national issues, in particular the rigging of elections..."
Actually, the lanky 'Andy', a familiar sight with his broad-rimmed straw hat, had benefitted from the foundation for a new approach to journalism by the newspaper, as laid by his predecessor, Fr Harold Wong. It blended theological discourses and traditional "church news" with analyses and reporting on socio-economic and political developments.
Fr. Wong himself was to later express his deep admiration for the courage and commitment demonstrated by Morrison, as he pursued, with an evangelical zeal, week after week, the reportings of social and political evils that plagued the Guyanese society.
His journalism attracted the unconcealed anger of successive PNC governments. Once he was bitterly dismissed by the late President Hoyte as a "cossacked obscenity". Morrison's `Justice - The Struggle for Democracy in Guyana’ - published in 1998, chronicles the pivotal role played by the `Standard’ with him as editor.
At a period when the weapon of libel was liberally resorted to under the PNC's proclaimed doctrine of `party paramountcy’ (above government and institutions) including the courts, Morrison was a familiar face at regional meetings of Caribbean editors and managers.
He was relentless in seeking their advice and assistance to fight libel suits from cabinet ministers and in securing newsprint for his small tabloid weekly that was much in demand among readers across ethnic and political boundaries in his native land.
Media enterprises like the Trinidad Express, Jamaica Gleaner and the Nation publishing company were to positively reach out in making newsprint available as Guyanese lawyers were involved in frequent court battles that resulted from libel claims against the `Standard’ and its editor,
Journalists of this and other CARICOM states, who had the privilege of knowing Morrison, may recall how his Jesuit colleague, Fr Bernard Darke, a college teacher and photographer for the `Standard’, was viciously beaten and stabbed to death in Georgetown on July 14, 1979, when a mob mistakenly identified him as `Father Morrison’.
On that tragic day, Morrison happened to be in our home, as a family friend on visit to Barbados. He openly wept as I delivered the horrible news. Farewell, Andy, brave friend and shining example of commitment and courage in a long struggle for freedom and justice.