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SEARCHLIGHT’s 20th: Raising the bar

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This week, SEARCHLIGHT embarks on a year-long series of activities to celebrate its 20th year of existence. This historic milestone in the paper’s history also marks a new chapter for the print media in St Vincent and the Grenadines and is another step along the road of what those of us associated with the paper hope would be a long and fruitful journey.{{more}}

In 1995, when the late Norma Keizer took up the challenge to venture into the rough world of commercial journalism, little did she know how much it would test her mettle. She had retired after an outstanding career in education, not without its own stresses and strains, but perhaps helping to chart the course for the new paper must have given her more stress than she had endured during her stellar career in the teaching field.

With all its shortcomings, as would be expected from a novice in the field, SEARCHLIGHT has been able to fill a void, to provide a more reasoned and balanced offering. It has its detractors too, especially in a partisan-charged society like ours, one where some expect sensationalism as the staple fare. In fact, the paper has even been accused of partisanship itself, a charge that it does not take lightly.

In spite of all this, SEARCHLIGHT can feel justly proud that it has been able to raise the bar and make its contribution to the development of journalism in our country.

Just three weeks ago, there was another notable anniversary celebration, this time in the political field. The governing Unity Labour Party (ULP), which itself marked 20 years in existence last October, celebrated at a rally in Calliaqua on the 14th anniversary of its first electoral victory in 2001. It has occupied the seats of power since, but faces a major battle to retain its control when the next general elections are held in less than 12 months’ time.

It is always good from a standpoint of continuity and historical recording to note when organizations observe their milestones. Some might charge the ULP with using the occasion to boost its electoral campaign, but to be fair to that organization, it has tended to be consistent in its commemorations. If there is one thing that its challenger, the New Democratic Party (NDP), can learn from its rival, it will be that.

The NDP has not been so ‘up front’ in its commemorations and its Parliamentary arm actually suffered the embarrassment in Parliament when reminded last year by PM Gonsalves that in all its congratulatory messages at that sitting, it had forgotten to congratulate the NDP on its 39th anniversary!

Though there are clearly ideological and programmatic differences between the two parties at leadership level, and there is no little animosity among supporters on both sides, it is amusing to note some similarities in their history. Both emerged from the rubble of electoral defeats, the NDP being formed after the “Junta” of Sir James Mitchell was routed in the 1974 general election. One year later Mitchell launched the NDP.

In the case of the ULP, its antecedents, the Labour Party and Movement for National Unity, unsuccessfully contested the 1994 elections as an alliance. They merged in October of that year.

There are other strange similarities in their respective political lives. Both suffered defeats at the poll at their first outing, the NDP in 1979, the ULP 19 years later. It took the NDP just over eight years after its formation to gain power. The ULP took a year and a bit less, winning the 2001 elections.

Curiously as well, the path to power for both forces came amidst widespread social unrest. The NDP was the beneficiary of the groundswell of opposition to the Labour government in the post-1979 period, with the massive protests over the “Dread Bills” of 1981 being the highpoint. The labour movement played a critical part in this.

By coincidence it was another bit of proposed legislation, the so-called “Greedy Bill,” which helped to bring about the downfall of the NDP government and pave the way for the ULP’s victory at the polls in 2001. Again, the labour movement played a vital role in galvanizing the mass movement.

In small societies like ours we sometimes have more in common than we choose to admit.

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