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It was 20 years ago

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Searchllight’s birth certificate would probably indicate April 7, 1995 as its date of birth, but while it was expected on that date, it actually only reached the hands of the public on April 8. It was born of multiple fathers and a mother, who gave it up immediately to the fathers.{{more}} Fortunately, there was a willing godmother around in the person of Norma Keizer, whose reputation as an educator and whose experience, humility and integrity helped in nursing the young baby and preparing it for life, while ensuring the commitment of the fathers. Actually its birth took place at The Nation printery in Barbados and the anxious fathers waited expectantly for its delivery on the afternoon of April 7. With some anxiety, we had to wait until Saturday, April 8. As we look back we can remember quite clearly that moment when, having buried its navel string, the fathers, accompanied by others, roamed Kingstown trying to show off the new babe. Unfortunately, much of Kingstown was then closed. This was the unpretentious arrival of the babe that has now grown up.

The headline read “A New Era”. The parents had great expectations, as they promised to offer a “standard of journalism of which Vincentians can feel proud.” They proudly declared that “this task will require hard work and a commitment to truth in presenting to our nation a balanced view of events affecting our society.” They hoped, moreover, to assist the nation, through enhanced communication “among our people whether at home or abroad,” with information to help with an interpretation and understanding of the rapidly changing world. The Editorial took further the expectations for that young babe. The objective was to have a “forum for dialogue” and for an exchange of ideas about the country and its peoples, the region and the world. The aim was to uphold high standards of journalism. A dose of reality was thrown in to temper the high ideals that were espoused. “We do not expect to please all the people all the time … (and) have always to remember that we live in a small society and that there are certain sensibilities that have to be taken into account.” The new player on the block, as the parents labelled it, announced its columnists and multiple fathers as persons who “have for long been part of the national debate cutting across partisan political lines and stating the issues as they see them.” An appeal was made to readers to assist in turning the ‘Searchlight’ on “and illuminating life in this nation of ours.”

From the beginning, the role of the ‘diaspora’ was acknowledged and the pledge was to make Vincentians living abroad part of the story. True to this pledge, my first column was captioned “Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Vincentians in the Diaspora.” This was based on a visit to Tortola and Virgin Gorda. One of the things that struck me about Virgin Gorda was the huge boulders, especially at the ‘Baths’, which, instead of being seen as physical limitations, have been turned into attractive tourist products. One of the first persons who met our group in Virgin Gorda was Simon Woodley, the tour guide. His slogan was “Have no Fear, Simon is here!” He proudly introduced himself as Virgin Gordian by plane and Vincy by birth. He was truly impressive and had the gathering rolling in laughter through his wit, humour, charm and knowledge. At the ‘Baths’ we were able to cool down at a bar, run by Miss Horne from Mt Grenan.

Other Vincentians were also making their contribution. In Tortola, Fitz Glasgow ran Fritz Oriental Restaurant, whose steamed snapper was an absolute delight. The weekend newspapers carried a number of items from the courts and the person featuring was magistrate Bruce Lyle, Ghanian by birth and Vincentian by plane and marriage. There were a number of others who stood out; among them, the Findlay brothers, Winston and calypsonian Dalpin. So, the conversation began and the diaspora was central to this. Today, with developments in communication, they are a vital to our continuing conversation.

The reporters at this time were a young Hans King, who probably sees me now as a nightmarish figure, Perry Joseph and Kafi Rose. Bassy was his usual self, poking fun at Sir Nansi-I; Renwick, writing from abroad, looked at Carib Express, Geest and bananas. He noted that public servants in Britain “had publicly expressed fears that the Government will try to use them, for political purposes in the run-up to the next General Election” and suggested that Vincentian public servants learn from those in Britain how to deal with such a situation. Oscar’s “Back to Basics” looked at Corporate America’s rage for profits that has not only stimulated our drug trade, but led to that country’s “uncaringness.”

News items featured the Ottley Hall Marina, which was said to be ‘Under a Cloud’. Dr Garraway’s hospital was expected to be opened later in the year; a new dental clinic was set up by George Walker and crowds got out of hand, leading to the closing of the Coney Island, which was invited here by the Lions. The Attic Jazz Club was in full swing, with Wednesday night’s ‘Karoke’, Friday night’s Live Band party and Saturday’s Disco night. All of this was 20 years ago, a period before 9/11, when there was still optimism among our people about a path to progress. A lot of water has been thrown under the bridge since then and it is left to the readers to let us know to what extent we have fulfilled those proudly proclaimed expectations. The landscape has changed drastically, with a revolution in communications that has presented additional challenges to the newspaper business, but widens the scope for the conversation. But is the vision still alive?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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