Greetings in the name of our Lord!
September 13, 1834: Forty three days after the abolition of slavery and the beginning of the apprenticeship system, the Gleaner had its first publication. The former slave masters at that time received a compensation of £20 million. The newly freed slaves received nothing but a nominal emancipation in which they remained oppressed by new tough, vagrancy laws with newly built prisons and the undiminished right of the planter class to inflict corporal punishment on any one of them- male or female.
This was the social milieu, in which Jacob and Joshua deCordova printed the first edition of their four-paged weekly newspaper named “The Gleaner and Weekly Compendium of News”, which is the ancestor of The Gleaner Company whose 180th anniversary we now celebrate. These brothers understood discrimination and persecution. Their parents were among the hundreds of Jews who had fled to Jamaica from persecution in Spain. Despite their achievements, they were still discriminated against by members of the planter class.
I want to take back to the social cauldron of post emancipation Jamaica which provided gripping material for the factual, balanced news they were committed to publish. Small wonder that the initial issue carefully stated that “it certainly appears that the greatest care and precaution should be taken to prevent any outbreaking or the ebullition of any disorderly spirit among our peasantry” and that “unanimity and good feeling among all classes are so imperatively called for.” Mr. David Vann deCordova, great great grandson of Jacob deCordova, can be proud of his pioneering ancestors as he celebrates with us today, the 180th Anniversary during this service.
The deCordovas could not have imagined that they had birthed a giant whose resilience has taken it through massively destructive fires and the disastrous 1907 earthquake which destroyed their building. It also killed Mr. Charles de Mercado, the first Board Chairman since the Gleaner’s incorporation as a public company in 1897. Yet the Gleaner did not consider failure to be an option.
Therein also lies a tale of not only public/private sector partnership, but also the strong foundation of press freedom which Jamaica enjoys. As The Gleaner pushed on with its rebuilding, its temporary home was the Government Printing Office, which had also hosted it after fire destroyed their Harbour Street building in 1882. However, during all of this journey together, I have seen no evidence that The Gleaner acquiesced to the demands of government, even in those days.
The North Street media giant has taken advantage of every lesson learnt along the 180 years from Emancipation through to Independence and in these challenging times as we journey towards accomplishing Vision 2030. We enjoy their cutting edge technology which not only maintains its relevance, but also attracts a readership which is internet, digital and social media based.
When you add to that The Gleaner Company’s successful foray into radio, you will readily agree that this company has evolved from being “The Old Lady on Harbour Street” as she was once affectionately known, to the proud “Giant of North Street”.
This Giant takes its corporate social responsibility as seriously as it takes its commitment “to being the source for accurate and independent information”. I especially commend the initiative which led The Gleaner to launch the Jamaican Spelling Bee which is still going strong after more than fifty years, as well as their ‘Peace And Love in Schools’ programme. As a founding partner of the Governor-General’s Achievement Awards Programme, The Gleaner’s support for our commitment to recognize and encourage effective contributions, volunteerism and excellence among our people, is deeply appreciated.
So, I am pleased by this opportunity to publicly thank the Hon. Oliver Clarke for his brilliant leadership of the Gleaner Company over several decades to now. Mr. Barnes, as Managing Director, has brought his own fervour and dynamism to serve a confident, committed and hard working team. I pay tribute also to the late veteran journalist, Theodore Sealy, for his indelible contribution to The Gleaner’s development and the respect which it has earned.
I wish for The Gleaner Company continued success, in the assurance that at all times you will seek to remain true to your Mission and Principles, including your vision define your role as:
“to report and comment on the facts: to be the voice of reason; to champion the cause of a truly independent Jamaica; to help citizens in their exercise of freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship and association, and freedom from ignorance”.
I trust that God will give you the guidance to accomplish your mission.