We owe a debt of gratitude to the founding editor of this digital newspaper for bringing initial public attention to a call we are happy to repeat to the Government of Barbados, now under new management.
Roy Morris has noted via social media the positive efforts made by this administration to bring the bureaucracy kicking and screaming into the digital era, now more than a generation old.
He recalled how valiantly he, Eric Clarke, Ted Taylor and our chairman Peter Harris strove to convince Government departments to publish in Barbados TODAY the all-important notices that are required by law to be placed in ‘newspapers of record’.
A vast array of notices, particularly but not exclusively court actions, registrations and declarations, are inserted daily in news pages.
But he and the co-founders of Barbados TODAY were rebuffed. They were told that it was “an electronic thing and not a ‘paper’- I suppose meaning you could not ball it up or wrap fish with it”, he said.
The principals of this news organisation sought a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s Chambers verifying that: “There was nothing that could be found in law that would proscribe BT from being regarded as a newspaper and benefitting from the publication of government notices etc., just like what’s published in Fontabelle [home of the two tabloids]. Despite this ‘official opinion’ nothing changed!”
Fast forward to the 19th year of the 21st Century. Finally, the Government has come to embrace electronic publishing as being no less legitimate and official than that on the products of ‘dead trees’.
Strike a blow not only for the environment but for the transformed landscape in which tablets, e-books, laptops and the ubiquitous smartphone are primary tools for communication, learning, and yes, news and information.
Now, another imperative, an economic one, demands that news reach audiences wherever they are, at whatever time they choose – just as those audiences use their devices to monitor, access, receive and move money, buy things and pay bills around the clock. It is inconceivable to Roy Morris, as it is to us, that this same technology – which the Government has no trouble in using to take money from thousands upon thousands of citizens through the same technology for filing and paying taxes – would be too immature, insecure and unsure for formal notifications to the same taxpayers.
We take note, too, that the Government intends to intensify its push into e-government, tapping into the vast knowledge storehouse of friendly governments and the private sector on IT systems in data analysis, payroll, billing, taxation, filing, and even voting.
Our court system has signed on to a vast project spearheaded by the Caribbean Court of Justice to develop homegrown digital court filing and documentation systems in our judiciary. So the courts, too, are cruising along the proverbial information superhighway – we hope at light-speed.
So where is government advertising in Barbados TODAY, we ask?
Not here in the nation’s leading digital news source.
Granted, Governments the region over have wielded this immense power not with the skill of a prudent fiscal surgeon but as a blunt instrument in the politics of personal destruction, to undermine not just one media house or another but the very democratic principle of a free and unfettered press.
Caribbean jurists have for decades ruled that the notion of freedom of the press refers not to some amorphous blanket freedom of expression shared by all but the limitations on government power of the means of the press.
Our justices have ruled in one landmark case in a Caribbean neighbour that a punitive tax on newsprint was a breach of the constitutional right of a free press, for in making paper unaffordable it was prohibiting the means of a free press, and by extension the right of press freedom.
There is not a roll of newsprint at Barbados TODAY and we have no evidence of a cynical breach of press freedom by way of denying advertising here.
But our concern remains. The Government has moved to amend the law to recognize ‘gazetting’ as electronic publication, not just the printing of notices in the Official Gazette’s paper “by authority”: the Government Printing Department – itself a target for cost-cutting in the economic recovery and transformation drive, BERT.
It is no mere self-serving advertisement to suggest that the Government of Barbados will find in Barbados TODAY and its fellow digital publications a more cost-effective outlet for statutory and legal notices, to say nothing of Government advertisements – from probate notices, lost insurance policies and electoral information to court actions, vacancies and public service announcements.
We can assure the State that their seeds of information will not fall on stony ground. Since our inaugural edition in January 2010, Barbados TODAY has recorded more than 300 million page views and over eight million unique visitors in total — on average 260 000 per month or more than a million a year.
Together with our social media platform, combined visits to our main website at www.barbadostoday.bb and our Facebook and Twitter pages, have exceeded more that one million views in a three-month period.
So the ‘bang-for-your-buck’ question is asked and answered. The thing speaks for itself, digitally.
In the meantime, we join with Roy Morris in urging our legal advocates to advise their clients to put their legal notices in this electronic newspaper, thus putting the very amendment and the legal opinion that presages it, to the test.