Making Progress?

The end is near!

As old time people say: “the world mus a come to an end;” because I opened the Jamaica Observer today and was delighted to see them finally! (FINALLY!) note in the same article, on the same page, that Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart is both the Chairman of the Observer and the head of ATL & Sandals. It is a small step but since mi desperate, mi wi tek it.

Previously the Observer has written articles about Stewart, or about Sandals —  all of them positive and full of glowing praise, pushing the Sandals line  — yet the Observer failed to denote anywhere that Butch Stewart is the man who effectively signs their paychecks.

I have been busy cataloging this phenomenon here, from this blog’s earliest days. I have many so many mentions of the fact that there are no discernible barriers between the news & editorial position of the Observer and Stewart’s business interests that I can’t link to all of these mentions. So believe me, I am excited by this development — small as it may be.

The article, with a Patrick Foster byline, was headlined “‘Butch’ flays politicians who bad-mouth business people”.

BUSINESSMAN Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, chairman of the Jamaica Observer has implored local politicians to cease bad-mouthing businessmen and instead recognise their importance to the development of the country.

Stewart strongly argued that the only way to effectively reduce crime and poverty was through the “encouragement and development of businesses”.

“The only way you are going to get on top of crime, the only way you are going to get rid of poverty is through the encouragement and development of businesses,” said an impassioned Stewart.
The head of the ATL group and Sandals Resorts was speaking Thursday night at the inauguration of the Jamaica Observer Institute of Business Leaders that has Governor-General Sir Kenneth Hall as its patron.

Source: Patrick Foster, Sunday Observer, Sun. October 26th 2008

Now call me crazy, but this small development made my day — that and it’s a warm day in NYC’s autumn. Even though the Observer didn’t publish Maxwell’s or Abbott’s column online today from what I could see, this small development was still good enough.

So let us examine what happened a little more closely.

As recently as September, in an article about the AA revenue guarantee, the Observer referred to Stewart

Gordon Butch Stewart
Gordon 'Butch' Stewart

yet failed to note his ownership of the Observer anywhere in the article — choosing instead to call him “the Caribbean’s leading hotelier.”

Then, on October 7th, the Observer wrote an entire story about Sandals; (headline: “Sandals to expand training programme for inner-city youths“); and managed to neither mention Butch nor his ownership of Sandals during the entire article. “Senior Staff Writer” Kimone Thompson didn’t include, nor did the editors insert, a simple caveat to the reader that the Observer and Sandals share a common owner in the person of Butch Stewart.

So I’m happy that Patrick Foster had the integrity to disclose this basic fact; a fact many would say the Observer has an ethical obligation to include; in the article Sunday. Now I am not naive as to the purpose of the article! Simply put, Butch wanted to “throw him word dem” on the Most Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller.

As the article takes great pains to note:

“If you want the country to prosper, you make sure the businesses are prosperous,” Stewart told the gathering which included Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller.

Source: Patrick Foster, Sunday Observer, Sun. October 26th 2008 [Emphasis mine.]

Now this may sound odd coming from me, someone who emphatically alludes to the word “diatribe” is his nom de plume; none-the-less, I would highly recommend to the Observer the virtues of a concept called “subtlety“. I mean, if they didn’t note that Portia was in the audience, in the very same sentence as Butch Stewart’s quote, would we have been confused about which party and which politician this barb was aimed towards?

Yet Butch is a brave man, here the JLP is a food riot or court verdict away from being forced to call a snap election the JLP wouldn’t win (as of today); and Butch is “flaying” —  the Observer’s word choice —  the Opposition Leader, who would become Prime Minister again in that scenario.

But, this small acknowledgment is progress — and I’ll take it! The Observer will no doubt continue to use its pages to further Butch Stewart’s diverse commercial interests in an ethically suspect manner. Like it did as recently as October 7th in an article sub-headlined “Unapproved Breezes laundry hurting FDR Resorts“. Let me note for the un-initiated that Breezes is a hotel chain owned by John Issa, Butch Stewart’s arch-rival and sometimes lawsuit counter-party. Like the Jamaica Observer’s RIU series — which revealed zoning law abuses by the RIU resorts during their Jamaican construction — I maintain the only reason we see these stories is due to the damage Stewart is able to inflict upon his rivals with negative coverage. Thus, I think these stories should also note Stewart’s ownership of the Observer and Sandals — and the competitive relationship Sandals has with Issa’s Breezes and RIU. But for now they are acknowledging Stewart’s ownership of the Observer AND his ownership of Sandals in the same article — I’ll take it. I just hope it wasn’t a one-off mistake that slipped through which will not be repeated.

This seemed to be the case with  Mark Wignall’s Thursday column, which he managed to complete without mentioning Portia Simpson-Miller by name, with scorn. I mistakenly believed that Wignall was making progress in dealing with the Portia Simpson Miller Mania (“PSMM”) from which he is so clearly suffering. But true to form Wignall relapsed in Sunday’s column with an obligatory negative reference to the Opposition Leader:

In the tense moments following the September 2007 elections, with Portia Simpson Miller making a mockery of leadership by refusing to immediately and openly accept the JLP’s victory, were Walker someone who was not trusted by Jamaicans, we could be now involved in walking down a path of a different but unpleasant fork in our history.

Source: Mark Wignall, Sunday Observer, Sun. October 26th, 2008

Oh well! You can’t always get what you want — it’s just good to see some progress somewhere.

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3 thoughts on “Making Progress?

  1. My brother, they have made reference to the fact that Butch owns them many times before, I know because I used to live in Jamaica and I have read it many times, so much so that I will posit that many, many, many people in Jamaica know this already, and also, the reporters at the Observer know this. This is information that is bandied about everyday in every likkle rum bar in Jamaica, on every verandah and on every street corner. It would become boring indeed if they were to write this bit of information into all their articles, or even a lot of their articles, which they would have to do if they were to operate as you would wish.

  2. MB – the issue is not simply about stating it as a point of fact, but STATING it as a disclaimer for how we ought to interpret the editorials etc. There is an established professional practice of making such disclaimers in journalism; Jamaicans just choose not to follow it. All of us can KNOW, THINK and BELIEVE that there is a direct link between Butch’s brain and and the words on the page, but if we were to make that claim as a critique, especially if we wanted to say he was using the newspaper to push his own interests, I am sure – in fact I would bet money, and I don’t bet cause I don’t like to lose my money – he would threaten to sue for libel or slander or some such nonsense. Absence of direct evidence is what protects him and others, and why we should always be suspicious of what comes out of that newspaper.

  3. MB: Ditto to what Longbench said. This is a long established convention that the Observer flouts as they don’t seem to care about their credibility.

    I have heard the Jamaica Observer quoted in America on NPR, and on the BBC. The fact that Butch uses the paper to lambaste his competitors has a real effect on readers from outside Jamaica who may not have access to this point of common knowledge. Imagine for a second that a socially alert Canadian consumer reads about RIU’s environmental violations and decides to not vacation at an RIU resort in Jamaica; that decision may have been different if the reader was able to evaluate the Observer’s article within the context of a disclaimer that the Observer’s owner competes with RIU.

    Also, if I am a Japanese businessman, thinking of approaching Issa for a joint venture, I may read an Observer article that portrays Issa as the devil and conclude he is not someone I should do business with. A disclaimer informing me of the Observer’s ownership would have mediated on that response.

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