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Ten years!

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SEARCHLIGHT this week celebrates the completion of its first decade of existence. Much has happened since the appearance of the first issue on April 7th, 1995. The media world has changed, very much so, both as a result of technological advances and the need to address changing needs and interests in the modern world. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and local media, are certainly no exception to this.{{more}}

When SEARCHLIGHT first made its appearance, there were those who doubted whether it could survive in the small Vincentian newspaper market. “There is no room for a third newspaper” (joining the VINCENTIAN and the NEWS on newsstands), was the verdict of several pundits. The analogy of our political system where “third” parties have found it well- nigh impossible to gain electoral victories, was even used to justify this “no room” claim. But experience has demonstrated that there is always room for quality, and as long as a product is of a certain standard, and marketed appropriately, there will be an assured future for it.

So has it been with SEARCHLIGHT, bringing initially a variety, a new focus to our print media in SVG and having to face strong competition in so doing. In fact, that weekly three- way competition has helped all of the local papers and generally helped to lift the standard of presentation by all of them. Each has been able to hold its own with its own distinctive style and appeal.

However, whatever the perspectives of directors and editorial staff of newspapers, there are certain realities which they must face. Of these, commercial pressures are perhaps the greatest. The paper must be a viable economic venture, needing therefore to woo the business community so as to secure advertisement support. This can, if one is not careful, lead to a subtle external influence on editorial content.

Fortunately, SEARCHLIGHT, seems to have been able to get its balance right. Rather, in fact, it is perhaps still too timid commercially and can do much more to attract commercial support. It is an area to which management must pay closer attention. Our history of newspapers is replete with publications which failed to last the course for mainly commercial reasons.

Another set of pressures which SEARCHLIGHT, and its competitors, face, is that of the cauldron of local party politics. Just as the political parties encourage tribalism in the society, so too they would love to manipulate the media into blind support of this or that side. No major party convention or high- level political event takes place without some reference to the media and its alleged bias. The minority party accuses the media, or at least sections of it of bias towards the governing party. The government, if stung by criticism in the media, is never reluctant to dish out its own tongue- lashing.

With government ads. being a major source of newspaper revenue, maintaining impartiality can be a political tight- rope to walk. In relation to SEARCHLIGHT itself, there have been accusations of political bias, specifically from people who are of the opinion that the paper tends to have a pro- ULP leaning. Misplaced these people may be, or not, what is important is the perception.

It is therefore incumbent on the paper that it strives at all times to uphold its journalistic integrity and impartiality. Never be afraid to criticize where it considers that mistakes are being made, and equally ready to praise and give credit where it is due. Above all, it must not be afraid to get behind the issues, to seek out the truth and bring it to light. It must take very seriously its responsibility to provide unbiased coverage of events. SEARCHLIGHT has played an important role in educating our citizens, both in the formal, academic sense and the wider, societal one. It needs to continue and deepen this, bringing to light the main issues and challenges of development in a modern world.

Sometimes this role is sacrificed for “popularity”, covering “hot” issues. In this regard, I have some disappointment with all our papers in the manner that crime and negative stories are covered. You often get the impression that the way these stories are handled, wittingly or unwittingly, ends up almost glorifying criminals and promoting the negative side of our society over the positive. SEARCHLIGHT, given its own origin, must reflect deeply on this and seek to balance coverage with insight and perspective.

All in all, it has been a successful decade. But there are many more rivers to cross. No time to rest on laurels because the challenges become more formidable each day. As it moves into its second decade, in wishing SEARCHLIGHT all the best, I also want to urge its editorial staff to take up the constitution reform issue and use its pages to inform and educate on that score.

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