We are not quite sure if the Director-General of Communications for the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, and current chairman of the Antigua Barbuda Festivals Commission, Mr. Maurice Merchant was asked to respond to comments made on OBSERVER Radio regarding advertising or whether he took it upon himself to try to spin the impossible. Either way, all he ended up doing was denying a situation that he also confirmed.
The issue is simple. It had been reported that the Festivals Commission instructed their marketing team not to place advertisements with the Observer Media Group of Companies. That was supported by the fact that there were no ads placed on OBSERVER Radio or in The Daily OBSERVER for Carnival 2018. There is no getting around the facts, but Mr. Merchant had sought to do exactly that, while admitting that the reports are true. The contradiction is media gold.
According to Mr. Merchant, he is concerned about the comments made by the management of the Observer Group of Companies “that the Commission has been issued with instructions by the government not to do business with the Observer Group of Companies.” He then goes on to state, “This statement is totally false and is not supported by facts. The Commission has never been instructed by any minister or any member of government on any matter relating to its business and vehemently deny this allegation.” We can split hairs and correct the spin later but let’s get to the meat of the matter.
The reason Mr. Merchant has used to support his bold proclamations is a considerably reduced marketing budget due to financial constraints and outstanding commitments to service providers. Not only does he confirm that no marketing dollars were spent at OBSERVER, he makes it known where the dollars were spent – at the government-owned ABS Radio and Television and the privately owned Vibz Radio.
So let’s get this straight, the only private radio station that got any dollars is a station that carries a party music format. No pan, no cultural interviews, no calypso … just soca during the Carnival season. Now, if the mandate of the Festivals chairman is to advertise to the widest audience, so as to fill the stands with people, why choose such a narrow demographic to focus marketing dollars? What is the link that creates a favoured radio partner? Could there be something more than that that lurks beneath the surface?
Now, the red kool-aid drinkers will come out in defence of the decision and say that our criticism is just sour grapes, and we wouldn’t defend against that criticism because we are sour that we did not get a piece of the pie while facilitating free interviews and advertising for the carnival organisers. The Festivals Commission is not for a favoured few, or in this case, a favoured one. If advertising dollars are to be spent, it should be spread so that it reaches the widest audience, no matter how considerably reduced the marketing budget is. This is not an advocacy that all money be spent with OBSERVER, rather it is an advocacy that money be spread throughout the media industry to all the players that meet the marketing demands. It is no wonder that attendance is down.
And speaking of declining attendance, Mr. Merchant seems blissfully oblivious to that fact as well. He refers to it as a “perceived drop in attendance” and blames it on internet streaming. Are you kidding us? Who does Mr. Merchant expect to believe that? ABS carries the shows live, so if there is any impact from remote viewing, it would be the ABS coverage. But they have been doing that for years! Mr. Merchant does not want to accept any blame as the chairman of the Festivals Commission; he prefers to spin a tale that streaming is the cause of dismal numbers at the various shows and events – an easily debunked myth.
If Mr. Merchant was to do his job and a bit of homework on streaming statistics, he would know that streaming is generally consumed by persons overseas; not locals. Sure, some stream locally but not in numbers to affect attendance. If anyone is to suffer from streaming it would be ABS. Few people are going to use their data service to watch something that they can just switch-on ABS TV to watch for free.
The attempt by Mr. Merchant to embarrass us by quoting the money spent by government with OBSERVER will get him nowhere. But, when he talks of advertising placed with us, he should also ask how much has been paid for. He will find that the answer is little to none. Plus, we get the message out! We work hard to be number one, and we are proud to be able to shout it from the rooftops and airwaves – not as self-praise but simply pride. Call it a boast if you like, but it is nothing more than a fact. If you want the message out, there is no better media organisation in our bit of paradise than OBSERVER media.
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