Earlier this year, BBC Radio 4's Today programme broadcast a rare item on the Caribbean. I pointed out in this column at the time that it was horribly inaccurate. It said that Antigua is an island in the Caribbean and that its prime minister is Lester Bird. These were about the only things it got right. It falsely accused Bird of drug-trafficking, gun running, and spending state health funds on lavish parties and holidays. On 31 October, the BBC agreed in the High Court to pay Bird £50,000 damages and £25,000 costs.
A pity. There is plenty of real corruption and mismanagement in the Caribbean, including in Antigua. I have made myself unpopular with many West Indians in the UK by reporting it. A few years ago, after I had presented a Channel 4 documentary called Trouble in Paradise, I attended a Test match at the Oval between England and the West Indies. I was speaking to Sir Vivian Richards when I was accosted by a group of Antiguans. They told Viv not to speak to me because I was a traitor. The great man exploded. He chased them away and told me to ignore "the fools" and continue to broadcast the truth.
Despite the inaccuracies of Today's report, I was pleased that the BBC was broadcasting again on Caribbean issues (another recent example was an excellent TV series on 40 years of Jamaican independence), as it had not done so for some time. There are hundreds of thousands of West Indians who pay their licence fees and deserve to have the BBC visit the Caribbean from time to time. In any case, so much of Britain's riches were made in the Caribbean sugar industry and today British capital still has huge investments in the islands.
There are hundreds of stories of interest. The islands are sinking in a morass of poverty and violence. While the world babbles on about free trade, little Dominica has nothing to trade. Tourism has taken a severe blow since 11 September. In recent elections in Trinidad and Tobago the campaign exploded into racial abuse between Indians and Africans. Weeks later, in Jamaica, more than 50 people, including children, were killed in the elections. Hardly anywhere in British journalism are these events recorded.
The BBC paid for its mischievous piece, and made an apology, a serious humiliation for the Today programme. Lester Bird came out of it smelling of roses. But I hope Auntie takes these mishaps in her stride, and returns to the Caribbean.