Statement by Prime Minister Gaston Browne on Observer Editorial on Hostile Government

                             Prime Minister Gaston Browne

August 17, 2018

It is absolutely amazing that the Observer is seeking to blame the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) for its difficulties. It is the ABLP that removed criminal libel from the books. There have been more litigations against Observer by UPP Ministers than ABLP Ministers. In addition, there was significantly more corruption under the United Progressive Party (UPP) government than the ABLP administration. Ironically, when there was rampant corruption, high cost of government, high unemployment, repossessions, and foreclosures under the UPP, we heard no such condemnation from the Observer Media Group (OMG).

When the debt to GDP was 104 percent, excluding $100M HMB debt, $500M PDV debt, $300M ABI resolution debt, $100M public servants’ debt, $300M in supplier credit; we heard no such condemnation.

Instead, OMG gave ABLP a failing grade for reducing the debt to GDP to 68 Percent, for repaying the IMF and for putting the people back to work. OMG lauded Sandals for holding on to $100M of our ABST and berated me and my government. They berated the ABLP for our entrepreneurial socialism (empowerment capitalism) and our investment in West Indies Oil Company Ltd (WIOC). OMG reports UPP fake news as if they were factual. For example, that $500k was missing from the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) and that I took 5million of public funds and paid it into my wife’s charity. OMG never called in the individuals to date to provide the evidence.

OMG principals met routinely with a former US political officer in Bridgetown and embellished their fake news which was reported uncensored to the US State Department. The latter treasonous behavior made OMG a liability to the state, a sentiment I have personally articulated.

The Observer with over $500,000 annually in business from the ABLP Government gets the lion’s share of government’s business. Point FM gets none and ZDK sporadically.

ABLP wrote off $500k of an outstanding utilities bill of $2,000,000 and gave them terms to pay the balance. They have defaulted on the agreement yet, ABLP Government did not close them down.

As ABLP leader I have been an advocate for easy terms, to ensure the viability of Observer and publicly indicated that Observer was my favorite radio station – when they sought to hold a semi-independent and semi-objective position.

OMG was always aligned to the UPP however, they became irate by the APUA’s decision to discontinue the electricity subsidy and descended into rabid partisan politics to force a regime change. In the process, their programming became rabidly political, stale and offensive to many.

The observer had several UPP candidates and politicians including Serpent, berating the Government with lies and innuendos on a daily basis. This brought Observer and their political allies directly in the political realm and was fair game for appropriate responses.

If Observer’s rabid political reporting was factual they would have enjoyed the sympathy of the masses and render our responses ineffective. Our responses were to enlighten the people with the truth about the performance of good accountable governance.

If there was any evil intent, evidently, It would have been with OMG and their vicious attempts to precipitate ABLP’s governance of our country. Clearly, their fake news did not resonate with the people and the ABLP was triumphant in the last general elections with a stronger mandate. The people spoke definitively and gave us an overwhelming mandate that we shall honour and never abuse.

It should be noted that despite the hostility and the lack of any business whatsoever from the Lester Bird Administration, OMG thrived. How come they are doing so badly now that my government is spending $500K annually with them?

Clearly, OMG’s blame game is unjustifiable, but it shows that the Derricks have bile in their stomach for the ABLP. It now begs the question; how much do they need the government to spend with them to ensure viability. And, is the latter good governance? Further, if OMG is dependent on the government ’s financial support to ensure viability, then how does that make the company independent? I imagine the readers could discern the contradictions and irrationalities in their arguments.

The fundamental problem at OMG is mismanagement. For example, OMG’s payroll is extremely top-heavy with several members of the Derrick family drawing executive salaries from the company. It is difficult for any private media organization to maintain such large family payroll in such a small advertising and promotional market.

Instead of casting false aspersions on myself and others, the Derricks need to un-burden OMG with such a huge family payroll to ensure its sustainability and to change its vitriolic, politically stale programming, to whatever will attract greater listenership and support.

I said to Daren Derrick a couple years ago that Serpent was slowly transforming OMG into a Crusader and destroying any perceived independence OMG may have had.

When you listen to Serpent with his daily vitriol, constant lies and innuendos, promising “doc-cues-ments” evidencing wrong-doing and failing to produce a scintilla of evidence – that undermined the credibility of OMG. Those tricks are outmoded. Daren Derrick agreed but said that he felt powerless to address Serpent’s excesses including his vile attacks on anyone whom he felt was supportive of the ABLP, even if they had ads with OMG.

Well OMG reaped exactly what it sowed.

Notwithstanding, my government has no interest to see the demise of OMG or any media organization. We believe that there is space for a truly independent media entity that will report truthfully and hold the government accountable. Perhaps a realigned OMG May fill that space failing which, a new media entity will fill the vacuum.

My government will continue to patronize OMG and is prepared to assist in any way possible to ensure its viability as a truly Independent media organization that will hold my government accountable.

Gaston Browne
Prime Minister