30 October, 2009


Is there some law on the books in Anguilla that precludes freedom of the press?  I was told once that all "news" in Anguilla had to be pre-approved by the government.  Is this really true?” 

These questions were posted as a comment on this blog recently.  I thought the questions deserved a little more attention.

The answer is, No, there is no law in Anguilla precluding freedom of the press.  There is no requirement for news to be pre-approved by the government.  What we have is self-censorship.  Effective censorship does not require a law.

The truth is not easy to come by anywhere.  Gold must be mined, it is not normal to find it lying about.  Nuggets of news require investigative journalists to dig them out of the dirt.  There are no investigative journalists employed by any newspaper in Anguilla.  The reason for this lack is obvious.  The island population is tiny, about 15,000, and the newspaper circulation is accordingly limited.  There is no money available for a newspaper to pay a journalist.  The editor/owners try their best, but their time is consumed in trying to raise revenue by selling advertising space to keep their newspapers alive.  Since the population is too small to permit a newspaper to survive on sales alone, the owners depend on government and other advertising.  Anything controversial published is likely to affect sales.  It is suicidal for a newspaper to publish anything controversial.  Investigative journalism is discouraged for these reasons.

The radio stations are small, one-man shows.  Typically they provide entertainment and permit publication only of inoffensive public announcements.  They depend on advertising to make an income.  They cannot afford an investigative journalist for all the above reasons.  The radio talk-show hosts are an exception.  The call-in programmes hosted by John Benjamin, Elkin Richardson, Yanche Richardson, Haydn Hughes, and others, have brought a breath of fresh air to what was previously a stink of stale air.

From an administrative point of view, what the public does not know cannot hurt.  The more they know, the more uncomfortable and difficult-to-answer questions they will ask.  So, when a tricky question is asked, it is always preferable to deny knowledge, promise information in a future that never arrives, or simply to conceal information from the public.  The traditional Westminster system of suppressing adverse news prevails.  It has always been so in Anguilla since the British took over the administration.

To give you an idea of how it works, take the case of the Indian doctor who was in Anguilla about 20 years ago doing research on alcoholism.  I cannot remember his name or the exact date, but all of us of a certain age will remember the incident.  The doctor did research for his thesis on the rate of consumption of alcohol in Anguilla.  The figures for alcohol consumption that he arrived at were staggering.  The administration in power at the time was concerned that if his figures were true, it would have meant that Anguilla had one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the West Indies.  He was quickly stopped from doing his research and told to leave Anguilla immediately.  His research came to an end.  Nothing was ever published.

Think of what that incident reveals.  Think of the consequences of this type of behaviour.  If the doctor’s research had been published, and his conclusions were faulty, it would have been possible for other researchers to demonstrate his error.  For example, Anguilla might have been importing 1,000 cases of scotch whiskey, but smuggling 900 of them into Grenada on our trading vessels that were so numerous at the time.  If that was the circumstance, our alcohol consumption would have been ten percent of what the import figures would have suggested.  Forget for a moment the other implications.

On the other hand, if his figures were true, I submit that it is likely that we would not have the present alcoholism epidemic that we presently have in Anguilla.  The evidence of the epidemic is mainly anecdotal.  It is widely assumed that large numbers of working men go to work in the mornings with a flask of rum in their pockets to keep them going throughout the day.  Large numbers of working men in Anguilla have rum at breakfast time.  Numbers of the children of alcoholic parents in Anguilla arrive at school drunk.  So I am told by those who should know.  If the Indian doctor’s research was true, and if it had been allowed to be published, government would long ago have begun an education drive to combat the problem of alcohol abuse if the facts had been disclosed when they were discovered.  We would be well on the way to curing the problem.  Covering up the problem only allows it to fester under the covers.  That is the result of the deportation of the doctor and the hiding of the information that he was providing.

Government cover-up is supported and encouraged by short-sighted citizens who believe that publishing the truth when it hurts is offensive.  People who talk about such societal problems are described as traitors to Anguilla.  They are condemned as being unpatriotic or worse.  We all remember the recent incident when the young American school teacher told her home-town newspaper that one the strange characteristics of Anguillian society was that there was no café on the island, as there is a religious sect that is quite prominent in society that promotes the myth that drinking coffee is an evil to be shunned by all except pagans and heretics.  On the other hand, she said, there are more rum shops and other commercial outlets selling alcohol from early in the morning to late at night, something that North Americans find troubling.  She was telling the truth.  We all see the construction trucks stopping early in the morning at the working men’s restaurants and rum shops all over the island for the men to stock up on beer and rum.  Or, do we turn our eyes and refuse to see?  The truth of her story did not stop a witch hunt from the usual hypocritical suspects when word of her interview leaked back to Anguilla.  She was hounded into making a public apology.  The principal of her school was obliged by public pressure to make another apology on behalf of the school.  I was embarrassed for them all.  But, I understand the need for hypocrisy.  The school was and still is dependent on public support for its survival.

This form of self-censorship is all-pervasive.  It is as destructive and as dangerous as any that could be imposed by a law.  There is no need for a law to enforce censorship in Anguilla.

Clearly, one solution is to have a Freedom of Information Act, together with the education and the institutions that make such a law work.  With such a law any citizen who is interested in a particular issue will be empowered to demand the information.  Every citizen will be made into a potential investigative journalist.  Sunshine and fresh air will prevail.


  1. I did not know all this exist in Anguilla. Certainly some people hiding information from us. It would be good to know the name of the religious sect that promotes such about coffee. I have never heard such...and belive its fabricated

  2. Thank you very much for your thorough, to-the-point response. It does explain a lot. I get annoyed with all the gossip that never seems to get the all facts quite right. Without journalists who dig for facts, the burden is placed upon the individual citizen to do his/her own research. Too many of us are too lazy to do that. But, in today's world, where there is doubt of everybody else's veracity or "agenda", that is what we need to be doing.

  3. Both the Rastafari and the Seventh-day Adventists disapprove of drinking coffee, but I don't believe either group is out there trying to keep me from doing so, or from opening a coffee shop if I wished to do so.

  4. Wonderful post! Despite the limiting constraints on the development of a true free press in Anguilla as mentioned above (small population, advertising revenue, etc), one would think this could be still be an enlightening time for the island and that knowledge & transparency could be fluourishing in this age of blogs.

    This is why I love Corruption Free Anguilla.

    It's a great blog & a good start. But Anguilla desperately needs more. I follow many of my different interests these days via the efforts of bloggers and it amazes me that blogs focusing on football, weather, etc can provide nearly up-to-the-minute news, investigation and even thoughtful/level-headed analysis.

    It would be great to see some more Anguillians step up & take on such challenges.

  5. Don sayeth, "There are no investigative journalists employed by any newspaper in Anguilla. The reason for this lack is obvious. The island population is tiny, about 15,000, and the newspaper circulation is accordingly limited. There is no money available for a newspaper to pay a journalist. The editor/owners try their best, but their time is consumed in trying to raise revenue by selling advertising space to keep their newspapers alive. Since the population is too small to permit a newspaper to survive on sales alone, the owners depend on government and other advertising. Anything controversial published is likely to affect sales. It is suicidal for a newspaper to publish anything controversial. Investigative journalism is discouraged for these reasons."

    Why then, on an island with a quarter of our population, no industry and a dying commercial sector, do we find a controversial, high quality newspaper that prints real news resulting from real investigative reporting? The St. Helena "Independent," run by an editor who also runs the only commercial radio station, turns out what is arguably the best paper in the Overseas Territories with the help of two teenage girls.

    And how is it that Montserrat, with about the same population as St. Helena, has a paper that at least attempts to do the same thing, albeit with an inept and often unintelligible writing style? I believe the editor has one part time employee.

    I submit that the difference between them and us is simply that these others are run by men of courage,

  6. Don's point makes it very clear that we need someone - like Don - to keep doing what he's doing. And he's been threatened, called every name in the book, had law suits filed - but still keeps asking those questions that make a lot of people “squirm”. Most of our news comes from the weekly "press conferences", where the politicians make their little speeches about the wonderful job they’re doing, and no one in the press asks any questions. But his is “openness”, according to government.
    And on the subject of drinking, my electric went out last year, ANGLEC said had to replace a transformer, would be out early the next morning. Sure enough, 8:00 AM they show up. I ask if they'd like something to drink - all three - "Got any Heineken?" So here they are working with 220 volts, wire cutters in one hand, Heineken in the other. Breakfast of Champions!

  7. Wrong. 220V is the secondary voltage -- the output of that transformer. The input voltage, or "primary", is 13,800 volts. Serious!


    Mr. Mitchell,
    I have been driven to the conclusion that secrecy and lack of transparency, is actually being encouraged and fostered by the British.

    It allows the FCO to use “the carrot and the stick” on our elected representatives or those hand picked by the Governor.

    That approach is in the opposite direction from good governance. I can only guess that like Christopher Columbus the Navigator, Christopher Bryant the Diplomat intends to reach the east by sailing west. Perhaps that is the way of Europeans named Christopher.

    With a new governor coming to Anguilla, and going on radio we thought that there would be more transparency, but that is not the case.

    In the Turks and Caicos islands the Crown Colony Government (set up by the British under the Governor) is even more secretive and less transparent that the ousted Misick Government.

    “The people of the TCI should reasonably expect to be kept informed in a timely and accessible manner the relevant details of policy and law that will affect them. That is why Sir Robin recommended that the Government web sites are kept up to date and current. If the appropriate information had been made public many difficulties could have been avoided. For instance, the increase in accommodation tax had to be delayed because insufficient or no notice was given.

    It may also be the case, that certain individuals may wish to challenge policy or law by taking action. In the absence of proper notices and release of information it makes it extremely difficult to mount any action because access to the relevant facts, laws or policies is not forthcoming.”

    I would like to adopt the sentiments of the writer of the above posted this morning on the TCI Journal, and say shame on the Attorneys General, shame on the Governors, shame on the Secretary of State and shame on us for tolerating it!!!


  9. Blessed are the cracked for they are the ones who let in the light.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.