By Carlena Knight
“Observer media changed the media landscape”. That was the statement made by former editor of the Daily Observer and Observer newsroom manager, Mickel Brann-Challenger.
She was one of several former employees who reflected on the 20 years the media company has been in existence on Sunday’s Big Issues programme. Last month, the station marked its 20th anniversary.
Brann-Challenger, who is also a communications consultant, expounded on the significance and contributions Observer has made to the country over the last two decades.
“I think it’s tremendously significant if we take it step by step. For staying in power for two decades is one.
“We have seen Observer surmount hurdles and odds, not just in the early days and its genesis but recently in its takeover in the pivot from Observer Radio to NewsCo. I think that, in and of itself, is significant.
“You can also look at its significance as a media house and the community support. Observer and its establishment changed the media landscape. It is a historical fact.
“Observer came at a time, with the exception of Radio Lighthouse and Gem FM, where the media was Bird-owned, in that if it wasn’t owned by the then sitting administration, it was owned by members associated to the sitting administration,” she said.
Echoing Brann-Challenger’s comments were two other former employees – Rory Butler and Julian Rogers.
Butler, who was at one point a news director at Observer, highlighted that the landmark Privy Council case paved the way for what is to be considered the closest thing to independent media in the country.
“Observer has had a huge impact, a huge significance, on the landscape of media in Antigua and Barbuda. I think often times through its 20-year history, Observer has been the closest the country has had to independent media and I think independent media is absolutely critical,” Butler added.
“The reality is Observer Radio broke a political mold that existed in terms of radio in Antigua and Barbuda,” Rogers, a former Observer general manager, said.
“It was really clear that there was an opportunity here for really breaking the mold of radio at the time and so we had a real transformation there, particularly because of the two Derricks because they already set that platform for that openness and for that challenge.
“Here was an opportunity for opinions to contend and I think it was from their independent voices that really established a new environment for discourse in Antigua and Barbuda,” he added.
The company’s ability to develop and attract top-notch journalists is another avenue Agnes Claudia Francis-Adolphine highlighted as a significant factor.
The ‘first lady of talk radio’ was a former co-host of Observer Radio’s Voice of the People which she co-hosted alongside Winston Derrick and Beef from 2011-2013.
“I look at it through the lens of media and journalism. Being able to be an ambassador or amassing a cast of experts from within Antigua and Barbuda and throughout the Caribbean was impactful.
“We must not forget how it cultivated excellence among the staff and those who contributed. I am so extremely proud of my colleagues who have come out of that environment and are continuing to create impact and so when we think about Winston and Samuel ‘Fergie’ Derrick … their mission, their purpose, was much larger than just establishing a media station; it really was to provide an ecosystem whereby there would be investment in people’s development and really elevate them to their level of significance,” she stated.
April 15 2021 marked 20 years that Observer Radio, the brainchild of brothers Winston and Fergie Derrick, has been in operation.
The Derrick brothers had to fight to bring their idea into being, as the government of the day would not issue a broadcast license for the station to operate.
A legal battle – which was ultimately resolved at the level of the Privy Council – resulted in the license being granted, on the grounds that the constitutional right to free speech and freedom of the press had been infringed in that instance. And two decades later, the brothers’ dream continues.
Observer Radio has been on air, delivering news and talk programming and a variety of shows for many different audiences.
Politically, it has been a significant operator in Antigua and Barbuda’s media landscape as the largest privately-owned media company in the country.