Caribbean

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CARIBBEAN Antigua & Barbuda In the previous report on the state of press freedom in Antigua and Barbuda, we noted that such freedom is "tenuous at best, and under-siege at worst." Since that report, the Daily Observer and the Outlet newspapers remain the only two free press institutions in the island. Antigua and Barbuda, a young country in the Eastern Caribbean, achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1981. It has a population of 63,000. All forms of media are controlled by the government - the prime minister and his brothers, no less, are the leading figures in the ruling Antigua Labour Party's ongoing attempt to completely dominate all information disseminated to the public. Prime Minister Lester Bird is a director of two radio stations. His brother Ivor is the largest shareholder in these two stations, and another brother, Vere, runs the country's cable TV station. Vere Bird Jm., who was a major player in the "Guns to Colombia" scandal some six years ago, was singled out during the subsequent Blom-Cooper investigation as someone who should never hold public office again. Be that as it may, the Prime Minister recently appointed his brother as the government's telecommunications adviser. All this is extremely relevant to the state of press freedom in Antigua and Barbuda, as recently the Daily Observer took steps to start up an independent radio station, Observer Radio, which was duly licensed to operate a radio station. However, the government appears determined that no non-Bird family radio station will ever reach the airwaves. Sadly, the prime minister and his brother Vere, who are deeply involved in the country's FM radio stations, have an obvious conflict of interest in this whole disturbing affair. Observer Radio went on the air on Sunday, September 1, 1996, and on Monday, September 9 police officers swooped down on the station and seized all the equipment on the grounds that the station did not have the requisite approval to broadcast. Observer Radio contends that it has under the Constitution the right to broadcast and holds a business license permitting it to do so. Observer Radio will go to court on October 21, 1996, to seek to get its equipment back and the right to broadcast. Guyana There are two daily newspapers in Guyana, the privately-owned Stabroek News and the state-owned Guyana Chronicle. There is no interference with publication of the Stabroek News and the paper is free to import all the newsprint and other supplies it requires. The state has a monopoly on radio broadcasting. This has been criticized in editorials by the Stabroek News on several occasions and there is some prospect that private radio stations will be licensed under new broadcasting legislation. A draft broadcasting bill has been published, but it is poorly drafted and will require many amendments as there are several objectionable features. Given the existing problems, the legislation may not be revised and passed until next year. There are several TV stations but they survive almost entirely On programs taken off satellite and have little capacity to produce local programs. The new broadcasting legislation will also seek to regulate this situation and impose certain standards. Trinidad & Tobago There have been no further developments that affect press freedom. Barbados The press continued to operate free of interference. A new Defamation Act, which replaces a 90-year-old law, was passed by Parliament. It provides greater protection for journalists in several areas. It was hailed by all media and by the Barbados Association of Journalists as a vast improvement on previous legislation. Jamaica In July, the Gleaner Company Limited, Jamaica's oldest newspaper (it was founded in 1834), was ordered to pay the equivalent of $2.3 million plus costs to former Minister of Tourism Eric Anthony Abrahams. This libel arose out of publication of an Associated Press story containing allegations that Abrahams had received kickbacks from a U.S. advertising agency. The Gleaner Company has appealed and its lawyers say they are confident the award will be substantially reduced. If not, it could have serious implications for freedom of the press in Jamaica, as this could become a precedent for future awards - particularly where juries are involved - and none of the other media would be able to absorb a loss of this nature. The Gleaner Company itself would also be placed in a grave position to meet such a liability. Turks & Caicos Islands The lone issue of concern regarding violations of press freedom is still the government's refusal to renew the work permit for Free Press Editor Courtney Gibson, a Guyanese national who has been living and working in the TCI since January 1991. Concern grows as the government continues to hold out against renewing the work permit and engages in a prolonged war of attrition against the Free Press and Gibson, in the process showing contempt for both the TCI Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, flouting clear guidelines established by both courts. This war of attrition is proving very costly to the Free Press, a newspaper less than six years old and with limited financial and other resources, as it struggles desperately to survive as the only regularly published newspaper in the TCI.

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