Let there be light

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It is the motto inscribed on the masthead of our daily newspaper. It is our raison d’etre – to shine that light. It is a sacred charge, and we here at NEWSCO take it quite seriously. After all, we, the members of the so-called Fourth Estate (news media) are not only supposed to hold governments accountable and shine lights in the dark corners, but we are responsible for the dissemination of vital information. In times of crisis, the citizenry will look to the media for factual information and updates as to the nature of the threat facing society, and what steps are being taken to neutralize that threat. The media will also alert the public as to its responsibilities as citizens.

NEWSCO is far and away the most popular media entity in this fair State of ours, and easily the most trusted. We have a reputation (and we cherish that repute) for playing it straight and speaking the truth, without fear, favour or ill-will. It is our stock in trade – an independent and non-aligned media house, providing a voice for the voiceless and asking the questions on the minds of the people.

We recall how, during the dastardly hurricane season of 2017, Antiguans and Barbudans stayed glued to our 24/7 hurricane coverage for the latest updates and advisories. Then there was the round-the-clock coverage of the local seamen missing at sea off our coast. It was our very own Managing Director, Algernon ‘Serpent’ Watts who followed and chronicled the saga for anxious Antiguans and Barbudans. And of course, we cannot forget our epic coverage of the sinking of the MV Enterprise off the coast of Barbuda in May of 2003. According to Joy Lawrence in her critically-acclaimed book, BARBUDA AND BETTY’S HOPE: THE CODRINGTON CONNECTION: “Over in Antigua, as the search and rescue progressed, Observer radio broadcast its own vigil. Algernon ‘Serpent’ Watts and his colleagues held the nation’s attention. Starting after 9:00 PM, they worked to keep the nation informed. Barbudans and Antiguans kept calling in, some providing firsthand information, others asking questions or offering prayers. Later, they interviewed family members of the victims. Many listeners stayed awake all night following the [Observer] updates as they came in. Once the first six survivors had been located, prayers went out for the seventh. Finally, at 6:05 AM on Saturday [24th. May], news arrived: the last passenger had been found. Spontaneous cheers erupted in the OBSERVER studio. Everyone was relieved. Per request, they played a most appropriate song to soothe frayed nerves, R. Kelly’s, THE STORM IS OVER NOW.” [p.118 – 119]

Which is why we find it quite baffling that there appears to have been attempts by those in high places to sideline this venerable and iconic media house. During the many storms through which we have passed, for example, the infamous Medical Benefits saga, we have been there for the people, providing intrepid investigative reporting and accurate information. So it is a head-scratcher as to why, those in high places, with a vested interest in making sure that the people are informed, are attempting to keep us on the bench.  Or, are quite inept at making sure that all the media houses are kept up to speed with the very latest developments. After all, as we have said before in these very pages, nothing can breed fear and chaos like a lack of good information.

Consider the following, if you will:  Since the early days of this Covid-19 crisis, we here at NEWSCO have been, on occasion, advised to submit our press conference questions to State media, which will then pose them on our behalf. We are not entirely sure why? Then recently, we were assured by the good Minister of Information, the Honourable Melford Nicholas, that a report that the country had recorded six new coronavirus cases appearing on the Prime Minister’s personal Facebook page, was fake news. Turns out it was not fake news. Then even more recently, this past Tuesday in fact, a politically-connected media house heralded the news that the 24-hour lockdown would be extended for another week. This critical bit of news was published in that politically-connected paper to the exclusion of all other publications and news reports. We only got the information yesterday (Wednesday). Sigh! When questioned as to why there was this manifestly grave sin of favoritism, the good Chief of Staff in the office of the Prime Minister, Mr. Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst offered, “I do not know how [the politically-connected publication] received the printed copy [of the official Gazette] – page 9, 10, 11 of today’s paper. I will send [it to you] by e-means. Can you check with the Government Printery and the Ministry of Legal Affairs.” Hmmmm!

We certainly trust that these slights are merely inadvertent errors – the innocent missteps of over-zealous bureaucrats, and not something more nefarious. We would certainly hate to think that the news cycle is being commandeered by those who post important government information on the Facebook pages of those in high places a la Donald Trump’s Twitter posts, or those who see some dubious benefit in feeding scoops to politically-connected publications. As Antiguans and Barbudans, we are better than that, and we suggest that in the midst of this crisis, spreading the light and getting out the information is clearly more important than one-upmanship. Let there be light, indeed!

        We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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