Editorial | Harold Hoyte is worth celebrating
Harold Hoyte wasn’t well-known in Jamaica. That doesn’t matter. For what Mr Hoyte accomplished in his native Barbados was of substantial worth to Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Harold Hoyte, who died on Sunday, age 77, was a newspaper editor and publisher, and tireless advocate for a free press across the region. Indeed, as Mia Mottley, the Barbadian prime minister, observed at his passing, “it would be impossible to separate the name Harold Hoyte from the path of journalism in Barbados and the Caribbean over the past 60 years”.
Mr Hoyte is best known for co-founding, in 1973, the Barbados Nation newspaper, with, among others, the late Fred Gallop, Carl Moore and Stephen Brathwaite. But while Mr Moore was, for the first year, the paper’s editor, it was always clear that Harold Hoyte was its visionary – the essential soul of the paper. In the end, though, he was the Nation’s editor-in-chief for three decades, and its editor emeritus, after he retired in 2006.
Harold Hoyte was a medium-sized man, whose semi-nasal, soft-spoken tones masked a sharp, febrile intellect, a wicked sense of humour, a strong imagination, immense energy and great confidence. The latter was evidenced by his entry into journalism. As Mr Hoyte recalled in a 2016 interview, having left high school and seeking a job, he went to the Advocate, which his Nation was later to surpass, gave the editor a copy of the paper he produced at Harrison College and told him, “I want to make the Advocate as good as my newspaper”. His gumption got him the job.
Mr Hoyte immigrated to Canada in the 1960s, and worked with newspapers there, including as an editor of the black/Diaspora publication, Contrast. On his return to Barbados, he first thought of launching a ‘black’ newspaper, but the thoughtful, pragmatic mind concluded that what Barbados needed was a very good newspaper that did what the best newspapers do – facilitate a conversation by the host society with itself.
The discourse which the Nation helped Barbados to engage in was reflective, occasionally angry, often witty and always respectful of contenders. Mr Hoyte deeply understood the role of a free, independent media as a cornerstone of democracy and that if those freedoms were threatened in one territory, it weakened them in all.
The appreciation of this nexus was underlined in a 2006 speech at the Jamaica Broilers Group Fair Play Awards, in support of reforms of Jamaica’s defamation laws. The sizes of two, at the time still relatively recent, libel awards against Jamaica newspapers, he noted, would have closed any newspaper in the Eastern Caribbean.
His sense of the region’s media being in it together helped deepen Harold Hoyte’s innate regionalism and of his sharing of skills across the Caribbean, including with this newspaper, where he served as editorial consultant from 1992 to 1994, including a stint of several months in its newsroom. He also understood that in small, weak economies like those in the Caribbean, consolidation was important to the survival of media.
The Nation Corporation, the holding company of the Nation, purchased the wired radio service, Barbados Rediffusion, which later launched wireless radio channels and changed its name to Starcom Network. Thirteen years later, Nation Corporation merged with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Communications Network, owners of the Trinidad Express newspaper and television and radio stations, to form One Caribbean Media (OCM).
Ms Mottley attributes to the Nation, and by extension, Mr Hoyte, a critical contribution in “safeguarding of Barbados’ stability since Independence”. Stability, for this region, is an important contagion.
We all benefitted from Harold Hoyte’s conviction and insights.