IN A COUNTRY WHERE THE GOVERNMENT DOMINATES THE MEDIA, the year ended with two contradictory developments. After winning a four-year court battle, the island’s first independent radio station was expected to start broadcasting soon. However, the High Court restrained a weekly newspaper from further coverage of a medical benefits scandal that the paper exposed in September.
The family of Prime Minister Lester B. Bird has long controlled Antigua and Barbuda’s broadcast media. Winston and Samuel Derrick, editor and publisher, respectively, of The Daily Observer, set out to break the monopoly in 1996, when they launched a private radio station. But the day after they started broadcasting, the station was shut down for operating without a license. On November 14, 2000, the British Privy Council, which acts as the final court of appeal for Commonwealth countries, issued a verbal ruling in favor of the Derrick brothers.
Two weeks later, Antiguan police turned over the equipment they had seized four years earlier. Winston Derrick told CPJ that he and his brother expected to start broadcasting early 2001.
After the weekly Outlet published a series of articles alleging serious embezzlement of public funds within the national health care system, Minister of Health and Home Affairs Sam Aymer asked the High Court to issue an injunction against the paper. On November 17, the court issued the injunction without hearing testimony from Outlet. The ex parte injunction restrained Outlet from referring to anything it had reported about the scandal.
Aymer claimed that he intended to sue Outlet for defamation. But his announcement might have been designed to keep the injunction in place indefinitely, according to Outlet publisher Tim Hector. The publisher pointed out that an injunction issued seven years ago, after Outlet reported on medical malpractice, was still in place without a defamation suit ever having been filed. Outlet filed an appeal against the latest injunction, but it was denied on December 20. The paper then appealed to the Supreme Court of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the last resort before the Privy Council. Hector expected the case to be heard in January.
While the police investigation into the mysterious 1998 arson attack on Outlet remained stalled, the paper was able to resume printing in Antigua in late summer. (Because of the fire, Outlet had been forced to print temporarily in Barbados.)
Yet another legal case involved the firing of two top editors from The Antigua Sun, Louis Daniel and Horace Helps. The firing took place around the time of the 1999 election, in which Prime Minister Bird was returned to office. The paper’s owner, R. Allen Stanford, has close ties to Bird. Daniel and Helps were fired when they staged a sickout to protest the spiking of an article that contained critical comments about the prime minister. On December 21, 2000, the Industrial Court ruled in favor of the journalists. Stanford was ordered to pay a total of 72,000 Eastern Caribbean dollars (US$26,000) in compensation and had a month to do so, Daniel told CPJ.