Chief Executive Officer of OBSERVER Media Group, Darren Derrick is of the opinion that the Labour Party administration is “utilising state institutions to silence” OBSERVER media, after Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) reneged on an agreement between the company and APUA for reconciliation of accounts going back six years.
According to Derrick, the government’s legal claim for Observer Publications Limited to pay to the Public Utilities Authority EC $1,198,598.86 and Observer Radio Limited to pay to the same body EC$387,500.88, is one-sided, and seems as nothing but an attack on the only independent media house in Antigua & Barbuda.
The judgment by the High Court was dated December 16, 2016, but was only received on January 18, 2017.
“I think it can only be construed as an attack on the free press in Antigua & Barbuda, and it is unfortunate that persons would attempt to utilise the state institutions to silence the only independent media in the country, rather than to hold themselves accountable to the people,” Derrick said.
The CEO said the legal action came as a bolt from the blue, as since 2013, APUA and the media house had agreed to a reconciliation process, whereby government would reconcile its debts to the Observer Media Group, and the media house would do likewise with its debts to APUA.
“In the end of this, it could very well be that APUA owes us, but we won’t know that until the reconciliation is completed,” Derrick said. “The action itself was surprising considering that Observer and APUA had already reached an agreement on this and we have been fulfilling our obligations of that agreement– an agreement, as everyone knows which was highly publicised after being discussed at the Cabinet level. The uniqueness of that action alone should have forecast what was to come,” Derrick added.
The CEO noted that a proposal to address the situation had already been accepted at the Cabinet level.
“During the latter half of 2016, we had made two proposals in writing to APUA. One was rejected outright, and the other, as I indicated, went to Cabinet and was indicated publicly that it was agreed to. That was in or about October last year.
“We received the notification of the lawsuit in November. We promptly replied to the Minister (of Public Utilities, Sir Robin Yearwood) indicating that we thought it was an error that was happening and that we asked him to address it. Those pleas were ignored and the action continued to where it is today,” Derrick said.
Since the ABLP took office in June 2014, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has often publicly declared OBSERVER media to be a “hostile station” despite also describing it as his favourite. Many other ABLP ministers and representatives have also publicly berated the media house. Browne recently said he is “fed up” of Observer and has “drawn the line”.
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