“Freedom of the press starts at the local level” – so says one of the journalists featured in this TIME Person of the Year video.
The Person is the journalists – some of whom have died, some of whom are incarcerated, some of whom have been threatened, all – of those who are living – doing what journalists do, tell the stories of our times, tell the stories of our lives. The lens through which they tell them varies, as does the intention, the slant, the resources, but those who honour the craft and the role of a journalist are simply trying to tell the stories as fully, as concretely, as honestly as possible. The powers that be wherever they are won’t always like this – they will make moves to discredit or stifle. Coming of age in Antigua, I remember the calypsos sang the stories the journalists couldn’t or didn’t, gave the commentary with a sharpness that the limited (largely state controlled) media of the time didn’t allow.
“now most ah dem against me
take me make big enemy
simply because I am not
what they all want me to be
and with their political views I can’t agree” – Short Shirt/written by Shelly Tobitt
“but ah go sing what ah see
ah go mirror society
culture must be free
they can’t muzzle me” – Latumba/written by Shelly Tobitt
They underscored for me (a young girl who would later become a journalist and a writer, a storyteller) the importance of truth – in fact and in fiction. What is truly at stake, what is the true emotion, what is true about this moment. I do believe that fiction helps us see into what’s really going on, what’s true, I do believe that news should try to give us what’s factual so that we can have an informed perspective about our reality. For me calling the news fake (not because of a legitimate error in reporting, which happens, but) simply because we do not agree with it is one of the most egregious developments in our public discourse in recent years. It puts us in to a space where not only do we doubt facts but we can’t trust reality, we’re all living in our individual realities, and not an objective reality – where the earth is round (there’s not even consensus on that anymore)…because, both sides.
I – having not only worked in media but conducted media training – believe that this TIME choice is important because the media is an important part of any functioning democracy and because facts matter #mediamatters It is for this reason, as well, that I’m re-sharing a post I did on the history of media in Antigua and Barbuda, credit to several sources notably Antigua’s Media: Now and Then by Milton Benjamin. You will note that since the advent of the first press, by Benjamin Franklin’s nephew Benjamin Mekom, Antigua and Barbuda’s long-ish history of activist journalism from Henry Loving advocating for the rights of enslaved people and free coloureds alike in The Weekly Register in the 1800s and losing many subscribers in the process (and being forced to give up the editorship) to Edward Mathurin’s The Progress in the 1940s advocating 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” (yes, they were still whipping people in the 1940s, something I touched on in my novel Oh Gad!) to The Worker’s Voice, the media arm of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union, getting its message re the working class out to the wider public. Also notable, if you read closely, is the use of media by various interests, especially political parties (the red’s Pointe FM and the blue’s Crusader are current examples of this, and that’s before you add the state media controlled by whichever party is in power, as is the approval of radio licenses, and the private media with party affiliations). You will note as well that the vices that trouble our media (foreign content i.e. passive consumption of culturally irrelevant media content primarily from up North, media professionalism – our emerging internet media not listing their publishers and editors on their about page is a concern, and press freedom vis-à-vis government roadblocks and intervention) are hardly new. You may note too the persistent push for independent media and investigative journalism (realities that have not abated, and of which Tim Hector’s Outlet and the Derrick brothers’ Observer are easily the most prominent examples having both fought battles with the powers that be all the way to the Privy Council).
As the TIME story broke in early December, Observer was embattled (again) – and why depended on what version of reality you subscribe to (i.e. they are being victimized by government trying to silent independent media which has been critical of them v. they are being held accountable vis-a-vis their APUA bill and their media license, an issue that has arisen as Observer having been booted from their base of operations and facing other hurdles transitioned to new staff-led ownership as they changed location). Whatever version of reality you subscribe to, there must be some acknowledgment that the cause of a free media requires consistent vigilance. The TIME video underscores how far south things can go if we slip on this point – you may argue that that’s a hell of a leap, and you’d be right …but you’d also be wrong.
I know someone who without the print media and in the days when Observer was silent (off the air as the issues sorted themselves out) was concerned – if something happened to us here on the island, who would know, they lamented. Well, there is social media but point taken. Media matters because (at their best and most responsible) they write and tell, and record in to history the issues, the concerns, the happenings, the facts, the reality, the stories of our lives. Party affiliation (no matter the Party) should not get in the way of us insisting on that.
And as a reminder of how far we’ve come and how bumpy the road, remember you can read a summary of the history of media in Antigua and Barbuda, read our Antigua and Barbuda Media: an Abridged Record.
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Wadadli Pen founder, coordinator, and blogger Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, and With Grace). All Rights Reserved.