Editorial: The oxygen of our democracy

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Tomorrow is OBSERVER GOODWILL DAY, 2019, and it promises to be a watershed moment in our history.  It is the day when Antiguans and Barbudans will contribute to the lifeblood of our democracy – first, Observer Media Group, and now, NEWSCO. Of course, the torch has been passed from the Derricks to a new generation, and it is incumbent upon us, to carry on the vision of Winston and Samuel ‘Fergie’ Derrick so that free and independent media shall not perish from this Antigua earth. And we are committed! Let all of Antigua and Barbuda believe that! In the words of former US President John F. Kennedy, from his 1961 inaugural address, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to ensure the survival and the success of liberty [and by extension, a free and independent media].”

Clearly, we subscribe to the sentiments expressed by United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, this past May 3: “A free press is essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights. No democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information. It is the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions, holding leaders accountable and speaking truth to power . . .With anti-media rhetoric on the rise, so too is violence and harassment against journalists . . I am deeply troubled by the growing number of attacks and the culture of impunity. . . When media workers are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price. . . I call on all to defend the rights of journalists whose efforts help us build a better world for all.” Very well said, sir! We concur!

Despots recognize that independent media is quintessential, and it is little wonder that they rail against dissenting and investigative reports and reporters as “enemies of the state” and “fake news.” It is why journalists are disparaged with threats and slander by operatives of officialdom. We see it quite a bit here in our fair state, what with party hacks calling our media house to carry dirty water for their bosses. They laugh and giggle about how this media house is bound to fail, much as US President, Donald Trump, routinely casts aspersions at one of the great American media houses by referring to it as “The failing New York Times.”

Of course, in Myanmar, the attack on journalists goes even further than the ridicule and threats meted out here in Antigua and the United States.  There, journalists are imprisoned. In Russia, they are outright assassinated. Despots, dictators and tyrants despise independent media. That’s why NEWSCO and Observer is so deeply vilified by the real enemies of the people – those in high places who wish to keep the people in ignorance and darkness. For example, we humbly suggest that, were it not for Observer, the Barbudans would not have been able to voice their concerns and vent their frustration with the spiteful treatment being dished out to them in the wake of Hurricane Irma. You certainly were not going to hear of the malfeasance and unaccountability in high places on the government-owned media house, which is the font, indeed the well-spring of government propaganda and fawning, cheer-leading ‘happy-talk.’ And hells-to-the-no were we going to hear of any of the many missteps and chicanery by officialdom in the conduct of its Barbuda affairs on a certain family-owned propaganda mouthpiece! In fact, we submit that that mouthpiece was founded and designed to manipulate the news cycle and spread er . . . well . . . ‘disinformation’ (we’re trying to be charitable here). The fact of the matter is that, when Observer went down to Barbuda, we discovered that, notwithstanding all the ‘clap-trap’ on other media, our good government had failed miserably in the rebuilding of the sister-isle. No wonder the Barbudans came out in such a big way on BARBUDA OBSERVER DAY to support NEWSCO.  

Observer is vital to our democracy. It is a critical cog in the citizenry being able to make an informed decision – a decision based on impartial reporting, rather than one based on government- and family-owned news manipulation and advocacy. When the Observer airwaves fell silent and the presses ceased rolling last year, many Antiguans and Barbudans spoke of a “darkness descending on the land,” and the sense that they would only be getting one side of the stories – that of the national media and the two other family-owned entities. Some spoke of a return to the dark ZDK/ABS/Radio Lighthouse days. Many felt that officialdom would quickly run wild, what with no entity to ask the tough questions, and do the investigative reporting, and “give a voice to the voiceless,” and “shine a light in dark corners,” and hold their government to account, and reveal the damning ‘dockisments.’

We need “the place where any and everybody can call in and say what they have to say about it, without worryin’ who feel one way or another. . . And if you want to call and criticize, that’s no problem, Sir!” [Winston Derrick, VOICE OF THE PEOPLE]. We need the marketplace so that “Ideas must prevail, and all ideas can contend.” [Vincent ‘Tubby’ Derrick]. We need THE BIG ISSUES so that the ‘movers and shakers’ and pundits can dissect and flesh-out the things that are so very important to our social, political and economic life. We need to be able to CONNECT WITH DAVE LESTER PAYNE (great interviews with the political and other heavyweights). And of course, no day can begin without our morning constitutional – OBSERVER AM and the GOOD MORNING JO-JO SPORTS SHOW. And most certainly, no day is complete without the insightful and incisive commentary and revelations on SERPENT IN THE SNAKEPIT.

A free and independent media is the oxygen of democracy. And we here at NEWSCO are honored to play our part in keeping ours alive. But we cannot do it alone. We need you to partner with us in this noble venture. And that is why we are calling on all concerned and patriotic Antiguans and Barbudans to rise to the occasion tomorrow and donate to the defense of independent media here in our fair state. We urge you to “Answer now to duty’s call!”  

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