By Caribbean News Now contributor
ST JOHN’S, Antigua — The Daily Observer newspaper in Antigua and Barbuda will print its final copy on Wednesday, the company has announced, less than two months after it cut its print publication frequency from six to three days a week.
The company said it is going 100 percent electronic and will continue to produce a “free paper” exclusively online.
“The shutting down of its print edition brings an end to the newspaper business in Antigua as we know it,” the Antigua News Room commented.
In November last year, Observer Media Group (OMG), which owns and publishes the Daily Observer newspaper and operates Observer Radio, was reported to be in dire financial straits.
“Our problem… is that our paying supporters are dwindling and our non-paying supporters are increasing,” chief operating officer Darren Derrick wrote in a memo to staff dated October 27, 2017.
This decline in reader support has been attributed by some to OMG abandoning its self-proclaimed mandate to deliver unbiased news and information in favour of an anti-government agenda to the point that it is now perceived as no more than an opposition mouthpiece, thus alienating a large part of local readership.
Earlier in 2017, it was revealed that OMG owed about $1.5 million in utility costs to the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA), which was demanding the outstanding sum, leading Derrick to claim that the government was “utilising state institutions to silence” the media group.
Its financial situation has been compounded by a dispute between the estates of Winston and ‘Fergie’ Derrick over control of the company since Winston’s death in 2013, ten years after the death of his brother and business partner, Fergie.
In January of this year, the Eastern Caribbean Securities Regulatory Commission ordered a stop to an attempt by some of the OMG shareholders to offer shares for purchase to the public.
The Commission regarded the offer as being invalid and illegal in several ways, including a failure to publish the audited accounts of OMG and the risks involved in assuming responsibility for the many liabilities of the company.
Georgia Derrick, one of the daughters of Antigua and Barbuda media pioneer, the late Winston Derrick, described the offer of shares as “fraudulent behaviour as they do not have the authorization and there is no proof of the value of the company.”