EDITORIAL: Without fear or favour

Can you imagine the temerity of the OBSERVER Media Group (OMG) for inviting Prime Minister Gaston Browne to respond to the comments and allegations made by Sandals’ Chief Executive Officer, Adam Stewart?  After all, he is a busy man doing the people’s work.  Allowing him an opportunity to respond and have the final word on the matter are apparently offensive to the current prime minister of this country.

If you are a bit lost, we are referring to the PM’s apparent disgust at being invited on air to address the public on the Sandals’ issue.  The entire episode unfolded on OBSERVER Radio’s Voice of the People programme where the PM was simply asked to respond to what the Sandals CEO had to say and to explain to the people why he determined that the agreement between Sandals and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda (GOAB), then led by the United Progressive Party (UPP), was, as he put it, “inequitable”, illegal and “not in the best interest for the government and people of Antigua and Barbuda.”

One would have expected that the PM would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss the Sandals’ allegations specifically, and the tourism industry in general, on home turf.  So many times, he and his administration have levelled the baseless claim that OBSERVER only allows one side of the story to be told, but if you look at this case, we were lambasted for seeking out both sides (as is our custom).  Would it have been better if we had allowed Mr. Stewart to make his comments in a vacuum? From the response, it would appear so, but had that happened, we would have been vilified for allowing the Jamaican CEO to have his say and not reached out to our Antiguan prime minister to respond.  

In a classic case of shooting the messenger, the prime minister decided that he did not like that the host had repeated the Sandal’s claim that the agreement with the former administration was a legally binding agreement and so he wrapped himself in the flag and took his tone up a notch.  Suddenly, he was the only patriot in the conversation.  He forcefully said, “You are allowing Adam Stewart to come here to try and trash the prime minister of this country who is standing up for the people of Antigua and Barbuda?  Where is your loyalty to this country? What is the matter with you?”

The PM then made an immediate contradictory statement when it was pointed out that we were simply seeking a response to the claim.  He said, “You have to understand that this is a national issue, it is not about Gaston Browne.”  Exactly!.  This is a national issue of great importance.  It is not a Gaston Browne issue, or a Sandals issue (per se), and certainly, it is not an OBSERVER issue.  It is a national issue being ventilated on the radio so that the people of this nation could better understand both sides.

How did loyalty and patriotism come into the mix?  There is an easy answer.  It is because it is an easy political strategy to deploy in circumstances such as these.  Wrap yourself in the flag and talk about “defending the best interests of this country” and you become the last patriot standing.  It, however, got really over-the-top when the PM said that he took an oath to defend this country and nobody at OBSERVER had taken such an exclusive oath.  

It is unfortunate that the PM would think that in order to be a true patriot, it requires that you swear an oath.  Or because an oath talks about defending the country without fear or favour, that is the only way that someone can accomplish those goals.  The fact is, the OBSERVER Media Group was founded by two of this country’s great patriots: Samuel “Fergie” Derrick and Winston Derrick.  They did not need to place their hand on a Bible and take any oath in front of the Queen’s representative in order to pledge to defend this country without fear or favour. They made that pledge to the people directly in what they said and what they did.  And we uphold that pledge every single day that we breathe life.

So, to the Prime Minister and anyone else who believes that they alone are patriots to our nation, we need to burst your bubble.  There are many patriots that have taken their own private oath to defend this country without fear or favour.  And they do it without bluster or pounding their chest to proclaim that they are Antigua and Barbuda’s great defender.

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