They are so accustomed to genuflecting and kissing the ring of he of a high place, that they believe that other Antiguans and Barbudans will similarly acquiesce, when given orders to bow down. To their silly ultimatum and demand, we say, in no uncertain terms, “Go take a swim in Country Pond!”
Of course, we are referring to a comedic media release by the good Minister EP Chet Greene, in which he stated the following under the caption, ABLP CHAIRMAN DEMANDS BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF OBSERVER MEDIA GROUP REVOKE BAN ON GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: “Despite his most recent utterances, Algernon “Serpent” Watts, did ban government authorised spokesperson, Lionel Max Hurst, from appearing on Observer Radio, and this is the most flagrant violation of media freedom that must be noted by regional and international bodies.” Good grief! The nerve of these people! The most flagrant violations of media freedom were the diabolical attempts to kill Observer in its infancy, a la King Herod of the scriptures. Let us never forget that Winston Derrick, our founder, with the assistance of the United Progressive Party’s (UPP) Harold Lovell and noted attorney, Sydney Christian, had to travel all the way to the Privy Council to fight for the right of an independent media entity to operate here in Antigua and Barbuda. The actions of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) administration back then were a most flagrant violation of media freedom. They wanted Antigua and Barbuda to remain a one or two-radio station country – Radio Lighthouse and Radio ZDK, as well as the government-controlled national radio, Antigua Barbuda Broadcasting Service (ABS). It was an act that will long live in infamy. Mercifully, the Derricks prevailed, and there are now upwards of thirty independent private media entities in our fair State. We owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Winston, Fergie and Tubby.
As you can imagine, we here at NEWSCO, the heirs to the original Observer Media Group (OMG), would cause Winston and Fergie to turn in their graves if we were to suddenly begin taking cynical orders from a dastardly administration and its minions in high places – those descended from the entity that sought Observer’s crib death. All the freedom-loving Antiguans and Barbudans, the good citizens of this fair State, who have loved and supported NEWSCO, would be similarly discomfited, if we were suddenly to refuse to stand on principle – the sacred principle that our entity must be independent, “shining the light in the dark corners,” speaking truth to power, “without fear, favour or ill-will,” and certainly without intrusions and directions from any Svengali in a high place. It would be the death of independent media if the government-aligned Party is allowed to ‘demand’ and ‘dictate’ who will appear on our radio programs, and how our radio programs will be conducted. A pox on those who harbour those pernicious notions.
Interestingly, the same disingenuous folks who are now crying crocodile tears in their milk, and feigning outrage over a non-issue (our managing director insists that Max Hurst was not banned, and he is free to call any of our programs at his whim and fancy), were the very ones who laughed and giggled and high-fived each other after OMG (the precursor to NEWSCO) was forced to shut down our operations up at Coolidge. This, at the behest of our very own King Herod and his likeminded dimwits. They rejoiced that pressure had been brought to bear on Observer. They wist not that this sort of highhanded government action was a terrible slap to free media here in Antigua and Barbuda. Remember, as Emperor Haile Selassie once declared, after his country was ruthlessly taken over by Benito Mussolini in 1935, “Today me, tomorrow you!” Any entity falling afoul of this thin-skinned, bad-minded administration, can be put under a great deal of pressure from those in high places. This administration bleeds spite and malice aforethought. It is given to dictating, and vindictiveness is the coin of the realm! Those who chortle today, could be crying tomorrow.
Of course, last we checked, this is a laissez-faire democracy. Private businesses (which we are) ought to be able to ply their trade with minimum government interference. Who the hell is this administration, and its political party to dictate how NEWSCO will run its business? Where do they get off with their delusions of grandeur? Remember, from time to time in the past, we have reshuffled some of our guests and our programming, as we deem fit. It is our prerogative. And if this feckless Administration does not like it, they can go shove it!
The good Minister Greene, piously says in his missive that our decision to reshuffle our programming is “ . . . a grave violation of press freedom and free speech which warrants the strongest censure from the regional and international bodies that monitor and report on the freedom of the press, and I hope all of them have taken due note of the clear and unequivocal statement of the Observer boss.” The nerve! When calling in international bodies that monitor freedom of the press, tell the good minister to report on the astonishing dearth of opposition voices on ABS, the national radio/TV entity that is paid for by ALL the taxpayers of this fair State. ALL the taxpayers cannot have their say on ABS. There is no equal access.
Conversely, we have accommodated ALL voices on our programming. We have operated by the mantra espoused by Winston, and later by Darren Derrick, “That while we we may not agree with what you have to say, we will fight to the death for your right to say it.” Again, it is Max Hurst’s right to spew and spin the administration’s narrative, but he will do it by calling in to our programs, especially if he thinks that what he has to say is important. And if other media entities wish to give him a platform, we definitely have no problem with that. This radio station is famous, indeed, renowned for entertaining all the members of the ruling administration. We have accommodated a spewing of the administration’s narrative, above and beyond. As our Managing Director was careful to point out in his appearance on yesterday’s VOICE OF THE PEOPLE broadcast, the administration folks have been given more airtime and more news coverage than even he himself.
Clearly, the suggestion from the good Minister Greene that the decision to reshuffle our programming is “a wilful abuse of media control for a political purpose,” is utter convoluted nonsense. If we were intent on media control for political purposes, absolutely NONE of the administration’s talking heads (including the good Minister Greene) would be allowed at NEWSCO. Nonetheless, we have had an open door policy. We have entertained all comers.
Never mind the phony outrage by the good Minister Greene (They are searching for issues to distract from their lack of a vision for Antigua and Barbuda, and have resorted to cogging the policies and proposals that have been put forward by the United Progressive Party. How pathetic!), we remind him that by refusing to speak to our newsroom, they are guilty of censorship. Self-censorship, albeit. We have no part in that Brer Anancy-style posturing. Indeed, the mantra on our masthead is, LET THERE BE LIGHT! It is our remit.
And of course, we further remind the good Minister Greene, and the good Lionel Max Hurst, that we will remain faithful to the principle so often blared from the airwaves here at NEWSCO by Winston: “This is the place where any and everybody, without fear or favour, can call in and say what they have to say about it, without worrying who feel one way or another.” Including Max Hurst! So if Max Hurst wants to call and criticise, that’s no problem. Max Hurst is a citizen just like everybody else. We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.