Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Antigua
As of December 31, 1998

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With elections in this tiny Caribbean island nation scheduled to be called in March 1999, tensions have been rising between the press and Prime Minister Lester B. Bird. Arsonists burned the offices of The Outlet on November 19 after the newspaper published a story on a large quantity of arms purchased by the government. Publisher L. Tim Hector, who is also deputy leader of the opposition United Progressive Party, called the fire "an act of state terrorism."

While it is clear that the fire was deliberately set -- diesel fuel was poured throughout the building -- some journalists said it was political dispute rather than an attack on press freedom. The day after the fire, the Ministry of Information building was torched in what some describe as political retribution by United Progressive Party supporters. Prime Minister Bird pledged to seek the assistance of Scotland Yard in investigating both blazes.

Journalists agree, however, that the powerful Bird family, which controls the ruling Antigua Labor Party, has long used its political influence to quash negative coverage. Of the three local radio stations, one is government -- run and the other two are controlled by members of the Bird family. The sole television station is also state-run, while a brother of the prime minister owns the country's only cable company. In September 1996, the government shut down a radio station started by Winston Derrick and Samuel Derrick, editor and publisher, respectively, of the Daily Observer newspaper, alleging it was operating without a license. The appeal was expected to be heard in 1998, but has been postponed until February 1999.

| Attacks on the Press in 1998 |