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Antigua and Barbuda


Dear OAS Ministers of Foreign Affairs: Ahead of the assembly of the Organization of American States on Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists urges you to oppose any attempts to debilitate the regional human rights system. The failure of member states to preserve the autonomy and independence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its special rapporteur on freedom of expression would make citizens throughout the hemisphere more vulnerable to human rights violations and represent a blow to democracy in the Americas.

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.

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.
Prime Minister Lester B. Bird was reelected on March 9, but critics say the victory was achieved through widespread vote buying and total control over broadcast media in the tiny three-island nation. In the days preceding the vote, many opposition political ads were pulled off the air.

The Bird family and its Antigua Labour Party have long dominated the country's politics and its broadcast media. One of the three local radio stations is government owned, and two are controlled by the Bird family; the sole television station is run by the state, and the country's only cable company belongs to a brother of the prime minister.

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