Attacks on the Press 2001: Antigua and Barbuda

The family of Prime Minister Lester B. Bird has long dominated Antigua and Barbuda’s broadcast media, but the outcome of a four-year court battle that forced Bird’s government to allow a private radio station to broadcast has driven a wedge in the family’s monopoly.

Winston and Samuel Derrick, editor and publisher, respectively, of The Daily Observer, intended to crack that monopoly in 1996 when they created the independent station Observer Radio. But the government shut it down the day after the station began broadcasting. After winning a November 2000 appeal from the Privy Council in the United Kingdom, which acts as the final appellate court for countries within the British Commonwealth, the Derrick brothers were finally able to open their station on April 15, 2001. Observer Radio, which airs many call-in shows, quickly became immensely popular; estimates say that 75 to 80 percent of the country’s radio listeners tune in to the station.

The Derrick brothers reported significant government harassment. Samuel Derrick told CPJ that government officials often stop by the radio station to tell the brothers that their station will be closed. Recently, the government began broadcasting one of its shows on a frequency close to the one used by Observer Radio; since the government station has a more powerful transmitter, Observer Radio’s signal is often disrupted. “They try to drown us out,” Derrick remarked. “Other than publicize it, there’s not much we can do.”

State and Bird family­owned broadcast media are playing catch-up to Radio Observer, conducting their own talk shows and creating the opportunity for more criticism and dissent. Meanwhile, the opposition United Progressive Party obtained radio and television licenses this year, though it had not yet begun broadcasting at press time.

Print media, which have also suffered under the Bird government, won several decisive battles in 2001. In January, the Supreme Court of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States lifted two injunctions against the weekly Outlet, according to the paper’s publisher, Tim Hector. Under one of the injunctions, requested by Minister of Health and Home Affairs Sam Aymer, Outlet was barred from referring to any reports it had published about an embezzlement scandal involving the minister. Outlet was served the other injunction in the early 1990s after it reported on medical malpractice.

Justice was also served in the case of two top editors, Louis Daniel and Horace Helps, who were fired from the newspaper The Antigua Sun just before the 1999 poll that re-elected Prime Minister Bird. The paper, owned by a close associate of Bird’s, R. Allen Stanford, fired the journalists when they staged a sick-out to protest heavy-handed editorial control. A court ordered Stanford to pay Daniel and Helps a total of 72,000 Eastern Caribbean Dollars (US$27,000). The owner appealed the ruling, but the journalists’ lawyer, Harold Lovell, told CPJ that Stanford filed the appeal late, and the court refused to consider it. Stanford paid Daniel and Helps on August 3, according to Lovell.