|Maurice Merchant, Antigua's unofficial media censor|
If you are a compliance officer at a financial institution located in North America, or in the countries of the European Union, and you routinely conduct customer due diligence, or enhanced due diligence investigations, be aware that most Caribbean media is censored, directly or indirectly, and that it should not be relied upon as an objective source of customer or client information. Allow us to explain why you must take this position.
1. The governments of the English-speaking republics of the five East Caribbean States that operate Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programs exert powerful influence upon local media, whether it be in electronic, print, Internet, unofficial or alternative form. Leaders in those countries fear any news that could be construed as negative might result in decreased foreign investment, tourism, or applications for CBI passports and citizenship.
As the result of those concerns, they lean hard upon any journalist who publishes stories about corruption among government officials, court decisions that appear to be influenced by the wishes of the local Prime Minister, or news about the crimes committed by foreign nationals with CBI or diplomatic passports that they purchased at great expense. Civil suits, bogus criminal charges, or even threats and intimidation are employed to deter the publication of important news.
2. Threats of withholding valuable revenue, such as government advertising on media, or influencing large private advertisers to desist from placing ads in media that publish news the government does not want to see, in print media and online, also acts to censor news in the region.
3. Many articles published in East Caribbean online media are thinly disguised press releases, or articles drafted by government supporters, posing as real news. Some of those actually fail to remove the telltale "Press Release" title from the material. What you are reading, trying to ascertain facts about a prospective new bank client, is sponsored material that depicts the individual in glowing terms that do not reflect the truth.
If you were wondering why we posted the image of Maurice Merchant, who refers to himself as the "Director-General of Government Communications" in the office of Antigua's Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, he functions as the government's PR flack, as well as its unofficial censor-in-chief. A Bahamian national who is not a lawyer, Merchant fills online Letters to the Editor pages with pro-government material, attacking the credibility of all who dare to expose local corruption, using an alias (Tenman), appearing to be only a concerned private citizen, pontificating on legal issues, as a spin master, posting disinformation ad nauseum.
There are other individuals in the region that hold similar roles. Therefore, take all media sources from the region with a huge grain of salt, and possibly even deliberately misleading, when seeking facts. They are generally not trustworthy for due diligence purposes; look elsewhere for your information.