ETA: Major clean-up of this post on December 14th 2018. Last updated April 26th 2019.
Primary source: Antigua’s Media: Now and Then by Milton Benjamin (published in Volume 13 Number 1, Spring 2007 of the CLR James Journal: A Review of Caribbean Ideas, a publication of the Caribbean Philosophical Association) and (secondary source) Talking with Whom? A Report on the State of the Media in the Caribbean by Aggrey Brown and Roderick Sanatan published 1987 (noting then, grave concern re foreign content, media professionalism, and press freedom). A little additional help from internet resources like Wikipedia (only what could be verified), the World Press Freedom Report, Freedom House, the Daily Observer, the Observer Court of Appeals docs, and Censorship: a World Encyclopedia (2002, Derek Jones); plus John A. Lent’s book Third World Mass Media and the Search for Modernity: The Case of Commonwealth Caribbean 1717-1976. These are arranged not as they appear in the respective publications but in an attempt to capture the chronology. Bolds and italics are mine. – JCH, site admin and Wadadli Pen founder; plus trained media practitioner, author, and freelance provider of writing, editing, and (written communication and literary) training services.
“a tradition that dates back at least to the first third of the 19th century when newspapers were a salient force in advocating political change in Antigua. Back then, the written word in the form of newspapers and pamphlets were the primary means that activists used to galvanize public opinion to their cause.”
“The Antigua Free Press, the first newspaper was introduced into Antigua by Benjamin Mekom (Benjamin Franklin’s nephew).”
One of the earliest newspaper editors and publishers was Henry Loving “born a slave probably in 1790 but was manumitted at the age of nine (9)…” – “Along with Nathaniel Hill he had founded The Weekly Register in 1814 to press their cause and argued in it that they (free coloreds) were Englishmen and should not be treated in an inferior manner.” – “Shortly after winning complete civil rights for the free colored (1832), Loving pressed for the same treatment to be extended to slaves but not all of the free colored were ready to back that project…In fact, two members of the Loving inspired Committee of Correspondence, David Cranston and Peter Walter, were so incensed with Loving for his position with regard to the slaves that they wrote to the planter’s newspaper, The Herald Gazette disassociating themselves from the Committee and from support of the abolition of slavery. The Herald Gazette had been instituted in 1831 especially to rail against the Loving and Hill Weekly Register. Because of the abolition controversy, the Weekly Register lost so many subscribers that Loving was compelled to give up its editorship in 1833 (to G. Hart, another free coloured). The Weekly Register continued to be published until 1839 when Loving ceased its publication.”
“It is noteworthy that there always seemed to have been at least one nonwhite newspaper editor during the post emancipation period…(Hart) also published the Antigua Almanac and Register 1843…the Antigua Observer was founded in 1843 and was being edited by A. B. Hill…The Antigua Times was established in 1851 by an American named Fred S. Jewett…It was purchased by Paul Horsford…in 1872…After Paul Horsford died in 1878, The Times was taken over by Messrs Macmillan and J. H. Hill, but it then closed down. The gap was filled by the Antigua Standard in 1874; and from the early 1890s until about 1908, was owned and edited by Joseph Theodore Thibou…by the 1890s, the Observer was owned and edited by still another former free coloured, Daniel W. Scarvillle….By 1909 The Antigua Standard had been sold to Allan Husband Nurse, a Barbadian who renamed it the Antigua Sun…The Sun closed in 1922…” – The Standard was edited by Joseph Theodore Thibou.
1931 – “Joseph A. N. Brown used his own money to inaugurate The Magnet newspaper…and hired Harold Wilson to be its editor.”
1940 – The Progress newspaper “editor Edward Mathurin, a printer…” – advocated (sometimes unsuccessfully for) improvements in working conditions on sugar estates e.g. reduced work day and equal pay for women in the sugar estates, end to whipping on sugar estates, and end to share cropping.
“The Antigua Star newspaper made its debut as the mouthpiece of the sugar and estates barons, who were, in effect, the ruling class in Antigua and Barbuda up to that time in the early 1940s. Mostly white and of European descent…”
“… radio (came) in the 1940s. Antigua and Barbuda was not to be left behind, though the number of sets was limited to individuals who could afford to purchase a set that could bring in stations that broadcast in the shortwave bands. These included the British Broadcasting Service and the Voice of America. These were the main outlets from which people got their information about what was happening in the world beyond them. Sometimes the cable services would post printed news items in specific locations so that interested individuals could go and find out what was going on in the region and beyond. But through it all, the local newspaper was the main focus of political debate.”
1944 – The Workers’ Voice “(A publication of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union) with Musgrave Edwards as its editor” started publication – “organizations that were engaged in politics accepted that to get their message out to a wide and increasingly sophisticated audience, they needed some kind of publication.” – other early editors included Rolston Williams, Novelle Richards (1948), George Walter (1958), and Milton Benjamin (1960); and McChesney George (A View from the Ampitheatre by Onlooker) was a contributor.
“Only with advocacy journalism as practiced in The Magnet, The Progress, and The Workers’ Voice…was the horrendous treatment of the underclasses begun to be addressed…”
“In 1956, Antigua got yet another political newspaper. Rohan Henry, a distinguished lawyer, put together a political party which he called the Antigua National Party (ANP). He launched a newspaper, The Anvil, to propagate the views of the ANP; the editor was Musgrave Edwards.”
Late 1960s, Henry’s next publishing venture was The Antigua Times (coinciding with his new Antigua People’s Party) – Bridget George Harris was the editor.
An Antigua Year Book was published in 1964 (reportedly part of a series of such books published by Advocate Publication (Barbados) around this time. It covered History – Tourist Attractions – Guide to Antigua’s Hotels – Economy – Currency and Banking – Trade and Commerce – Income Tax – Estimates of Revenue and Expeniture – Local Government – Antigua Labour Party – Legislative Council – Population – Postal rates – Governors and Administrators- Weights and Measures – Department heads – Port – Phone numbers – Who’s Who – Antigua Trade Directory – other references – ads from companies still around – Harpers, Dew’s, Kenneth A Gomez and Sons, Antigua Distillery, Admirals Inn, Shoul’s Chief Store, Mitchell A Michael and Sons, Blue Waters, and LIAT.
“ABS TV…began telecasting in 1965 as ZAL-TV. ZAL-TV was owned by a private company then, and served Antigua on Channel 10…The station was run by an expatriate management and staff, and was affiliated with another television station in Bermuda…in the mid-1970s, because of severe financial problems, the television station was eventually bought by the Government of Antigua, and re-named ABS-TV.”
“The Outlet newspaper (founded 1968, edited by Leonard Tim Hector), (became) one of the most influential newspapers ever published in Antigua and Barbuda (associated with the Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement)…The Outlet exposed many instances of corruption…” – In its heyday Outlet claimed a circulation of around 5,000 copies, thus being the most widely read newspaper on Antigua. As of the early 1970s, Outlet and Standard (which appeared on irregular basis) were the sole opposition newspapers in the country…Due to its criticisms, Outlet was often targeted (the offices were raided in the 1980s and the publication faced off against the government in court more than once, and in 1998 its building was attacked by arsonists)… Hector died in 2002 and publication continued for a handful of years after his death.
“Not to be outdone, the fledgling Antigua Workers Union (which started in 1968) brought out its own organ to disseminate its views in the form of The Trumpet newspaper, stenciled sheets of paper, with a lawyer’s clerk, Theodore Dunning, as its initial editor.”
“Immediately after the Antigua elections of 1971, the new (PLM) Walter government deported Dorcas White, editor of the Antigua Workers’ Voice. Very little reason was given for the sudden interest by the government in her lack of a work permit, but a number of Antiguans assumed that she was deported because of the editorials she wrote in The Voice and broadcast over ZDK radio…Another occasion when the Antigua government (based on the year, this would have been the ALP/Bird government as the PLM/Walter government only held power from 1971-1976, and the ALP/Bird government before and after up until 2004 when the UPP/Spencer government took the reins for 10 years before returning them to the ALP in 2014, now under the leadership of Gaston Browne) used the denial of a work-permit renewal to suppress a journalist occurred in 1968. Television commentator Bobby Margetson was forced to leave the island for political broadcasts that he made (according to the book the ‘offence’ was committed on ZAL-TV, later the state TV ABS).”
“Cable Television, a privately-owned company, began operation in Antigua in the latter half of 1983.” (non-local, primarily American content)
(in the 1980s and early 1990s) the surviving papers were The Worker’s Voice, the Outlet, and the Nation’s Voice (out of the Government Information Unit) – Local radio in the 1980s was dominated by ABS Radio (government-owned and run + a battleground for media access by the then Opposition, a situation that would invert itself when the Opposition became the Government, and back again) and ZDK (privately owned, by Ivor Bird, son of Prime Minister V. C. Bird Sr. of the ruling Antigua Labour Party) – beyond that there were Caribbean Relay Station, gospel station Caribbean Radio Lighthouse (plus regional stations like GEM which was then popular among teens).
“The government, the ruling party, and the Bird family also control four newspapers, including Antigua Today, an expensively produced weekly established in 1993 as an election vehicle for Lester Bird.” – Freedom House
“…The Daily Observer was founded in 1993 … As (co-founder) Winston Derrick disclosed…because he and (brother) Fergie (Samuel Derrick) had a desire to publish, and Winston owned a computer, both he and his brother started the Observer newspaper by fax.” This ultimately became the popular Daily Observer newspaper (which had for many years through the 1990s and 2000s a Monday to Saturday print schedule, and also, briefly, an afternoon edition; it is as of 2018 online only).
“In 1997, (American businessman) Allan Stanford established The Antigua Sun newspaper and subsequently followed it with the sister publication the Sun Weekend, each in color.” (Both are now defunct and Mr. Stanford is a federal prisoner in the US)
“In June 2005, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer sought new legislation to curb slander and harassment on the radio, but the opposition claimed this was an effort to restrict free speech.” (Source)
“Observer Radio burst on the scene in the year 2001.” – “Journalism in Antigua and Barbuda has not been the same since then. That decision freed up the radio airwaves once and for all.”
“Prior to the coming of Observer Radio the airwaves in Antigua were dominated by the Government broadcast services in radio and television (i.e. ABS, GIS), and by the private radio and television services (i.e. Cable TV, the lone cable TV service and Grenville Radio/ZDK) owned by the Bird family, the family which dominated politics in Antigua and Barbuda for almost half a century…”
When Observer Radio first started broadcasting “the editor and publisher were arrested for operating a radio station without a license” (note: the paper, like the Outlet, and subsequently the radio station has also been sued multiple times by government and/or government ministers, and in 2002 Barbadian Broadcaster and trainer Julius Gittens, here to train the team at the fledgling radio station, was invited to leave the country by the government).
“On September 1 1996, the appellant, without the requisite license, commenced broadcasting over a telecommunications media in Antigua called Observer Radio. On the second day of the broadcast, the police arrived with a search warrant…and seized various pieces of broadcasting equipment.” – per Observer court of Appeals docs – a business license and a telecommunications license had been sought; the former granted while the latter dragged for more than a year. Observer won Privy Council appeal related to this case in 2000.
“It’s a truism that Observer Radio would not exist but for the fact that the Observer Group had to go through a lengthy and expensive court process to get a license to broadcast, because their original application for a license to set up a radio station was denied them by the government …It was the Privy Council in London, Antigua and Barbuda’s court of last resort that compelled the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to grant the license to the Observer Group.”
“The Observer Group also maintains a sister radio station (Hitz FM) …(which unlike the Observer Radio talk format) plays mainly popular music…”
“…the first flagrantly political radio station, Crusader Radio, opened up its channels in the year 2004. Crusader began broadcasting explicitly on behalf of the United Progressive Party (UPP), the opposition party.” The ALP also has Pointe FM (opened in the late 2010s).
The opening up of the airwaves, traceable to the Observer Radio case, a faultline in Antiguan and Barbudan media, is credited with expanding the talk radio format and shaking up the political landscape. A number of music stations can also be found on the radio dial.
On the subject of press freedom, Independent watchdog group Freedom House gives Antigua and Barbuda (up to 2017) a 34/100 rating, dubbing it “partly free”. And in a November 3rd Daily Observer article, the editor writes, “Antigua and Barbuda is indeed a peaceful place, but it is not immune to the anti-media wave that is flooding the world…”, citing name calling, threats of physical violence, online trolling, financial pressure, and property damage as some of the hurdles faced by some of its media workers.
Several other publications – newspapers to magazines – have come and gone. Among them the Sentinel in the late 1980s/early 90s (?) – started by Vere Bird Jr., News Pages Antigua in the 2000s edited by Timothy Payne, Carib Arena (also in the 2000s – before abruptly vanishing, business unsettled), Woman’s Place magazine 1990s (scheduled to be published twice yearly; issue Number 2 was published in October 1990 – not sure how many issues there were) edited by Isolene Blackwood Meeks, Business Focus Antigua (part of an Eastern Caribbean brand, a publication of Advertising and Marketing Services out of St. Lucia) and Essential magazine edited by D. Gisele Isaac (and published by a group of local media workers operating as Homegrown Publications – which also produced special publications e.g. for Independence) in the 2000s, and online publications like the Antigua and Barbuda News Source i.e. sourceAB.com (a project of a group of local media workers and one of if not the first exclusively online local news media) in the late 1990s/early 2000s. In 2018, both The Daily Observer and Caribbean Times, the only remaining dailies up to that time (as of 2019 ALP had a new daily), both ceased publishing print editions – Observer continued as an exclusively online edition and both this online edition and the radio station are run by staff-led Newsco. The Observer saga is, at this writing, a still evolving situation with echoes of the past – i.e. butting heads with government (amidst allegations that obstacles were being thrown up, hindering press freedom). The radio station went off air in December 2018. It was back on air in less than a week (they were briefly off air again in April – we can’t continue to track in this space so let’s just say, the saga continues). There are several purely online publications (with new ones popping up semi-regularly) – among the longest running ones are Antigua Chronicle (which seems to have ceased publication) and Antigua Newsroom. The publisher-ship and editor-ship of the several online publications, as well as authorship of their articles, is not always clear as these are either not included in a masthead (or about us, or contact us) or not easy to find – which is problematic vis-à-vis credibility. There are also several annual tourism publications. Radio is much more populated with the likes of RedHot, Vybz, Nice FM, and others – all also online – lots of music but post-the launch of Observer Radio lots more talk than ever before. Local TV is still primarily ABS, there’s been marginally more local (film and TV) content (via independent producers such as HAMA – see here for more on film content) but also an explosion of foreign content thanks to cable offerings from Flow TV and CTV; and, of course, there’s the endless internet (touristic, entertainment, news, and otherwise) landscape – which has yielded some new content but much more passive consumption. There remains a need for more non-partisan, independent, grounded, well-sourced, verifiable research, documentation, and accessibility (to said research and documentation) of all areas of life in Antigua and Barbuda (as we try to do with literary arts here on this site).
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