It was quite gratifying to hear Sean Bird, a scion of the Bird dynasty and station manager of Radio Station ZDK, taking a most principled stand in defense of independent media here in our fair state. He must be given plaudits for his unwavering support for freedom of expression, one of the fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution. We concur wholeheartedly with Sean, and believe that we would be remiss, especially at a time when financial strictures and heavy-handed governmental pressure are being brought to bear on independent media in diverse places, to publish his remarks. These remarks were made in the context of the Observer Goodwill Day 2019. Here goes:
“ I think it’s appropriate for me to come and say something, so I have to support the Observer Radio, in terms of them being . . . and regardless of whether we like them or not, the fact is that we are all in this environment, and we can’t make rules in government, that we’re not going to be able to deal with out of government. So we have to be very careful as we . . . it is a business, and people’s bills are paid that work in this business; you don’t have to like what comes out, but you must respect the fact this is a business . . . I think when it comes to the media in Antigua and Barbuda, and because Antigua is small . . . we’re going to have to make some concessions available to the media in order for it to really survive professionally, because you have good people, and you want to keep them, but the cost of running media has gotten extremely expensive . . . if you’re going to do it correctly . . . In the interest of free media, ah . . in the interest of public discourse, regardless of who you back, you know, it would be good to encourage, you know, the surviving, the survival of the Observer Media, just like any other media house that has played a part in contributing to Antigua and Barbuda. No! I don’t want anybody coming and saying, ‘remember this and remember that;’ no, no, no, I am not into that ‘blame-game and remember’ business; no no! I not involved in that! No, no, no, you’re talking to the wrong man with that. What I am saying is that these places contribute, you understand, to the whole issue, or the issues, and what is happening in our nation, whether it be for the better or for the worse, whatever side you’re on, that’s how you’ll see it, but I think we need to uh . . I would like to ensure their viability. I think it’s important that they continue to survive. . . And it’s unfortunate, you know, you have those that, you know ah . . . maybe because of whatever allegiances they may have, you know, they would like to see media houses like the Observer or ZDK sink, because it does not suit their purpose, right. . . but at the end of the idea, in a democracy, you have to let all ideas contend!
Manifestly, Sean Bird is a stand up guy! His clarity and unequivocal stand on the issue is commendable, indeed, quite statesmanlike! Of course, he is not alone. Nay, many of our toughest critics, some on differing sides of the political aisle, stepped up in a tremendous way to support, not just NEWSCO, but the principle that for the survival of our democracy, free and independent media must be allowed to thrive. And governments, and the people, must be a partner in creating and fostering a nurturing and wholesome media environment. Subtle and not-so-subtle threats to media that seek to hold governments to account, and ask the uncomfortable questions, and expose wickedness in high places, is quite frankly, not helpful.
Interestingly, Sean, to his eternal credit, has broken ranks with the thinking of the past when some members of his family sought to place as many hurdles as possible in the path of free and independent media. He is clearly an enlightened man – a deep thinker. And quite eloquent! Of course, in rich irony, his family-owned media house, when his family was no longer in office, also fell victim to an unhelpful and unurturing media environment from officialdom. He is firmly of the opinion that independent media ought not to be muzzled, hence his support for NEWSCO and the Observer Goodwill Project.
Latumba, another great Antiguan voice in song, felt that self-same way, and he articulated his sentiments quite brilliantly in one of the great Antiguan classics, CULTURE MUST BE FREE:
“They tell me they don’t want no politics at all this year / So when I come to sing, I must sing about love / They tell me is only Uncle Toms they want this year /. So if is de crown I am thinking of, I must sell my soul . . . / But my heart cannot buy it, my conscience reject it . . . / Ah-go sing what I see, ah-go mirror society / Culture (the media – Observer, ZDK and all other fourth estate entities as well) must be free / They can’t muzzle me . . . They tell me they don’t want no politics at all this year / So if I could lie and say pretty things, they have the power to make me king . . . / If I could just sing a little lie . . . / But to hell wid they competition / I want no part under those conditions . . . / And they don’t even bound to play my song on none of dem two radio station” (ABS and ZDK) Bravo, Latumba!
And bravo, Sean Bird! Much like Latumba, as it pertains to culture, you are insisting that the media must be free! There ought not to be any hindrance! Indeed, there ought to be concessions and other ways and means for them to blossom and flourish. And be it so resolved! After all, the media and culture are the voices of the people. They are our eyes and ears, and they are in the business of holding our government’s feet to the fire. We salute Sean and ZDK radio for standing on principle! Seems, they are echoing Voltaire, the erudite French philosopher and writer, who, in defense of freedom of expression, declared, “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!”