Rickey Singh: beating all odds to reach the top (A tribute from well-wishers)
Guyana Chronicle
October 24, 2002

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LEADING Caribbean journalist Rickey Singh will receive an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) this Saturday.

The presentation of the award culminates a long, hard road he walked and the challenges he encountered in the battle for a free Caribbean media.

Singh was born in Guyana on February 1, 1937 and is currently based in Barbados.

He is perhaps the best known and read in the Caribbean in which he specialises as his regular beat.

Best known for his contributions as a journalist of the print media, Singh has also made his mark on radio and wire services doing reporting and political analysis.

He has a special focus on political and economic journalism and prides himself on his contribution as helping to foster greater awareness of the Caribbean region. He sees the Caribbean as one family living in different houses.

Singh started out as a trainee reporter in the 1950's with the Guyana Chronicle in colonial British Guiana and worked his way up to being what he is - a columnist, feature writer and a news provider for some of the leading regional newspapers.

Among those for which he currently writes are the Express, Trinidad and

Tobago; the Observer, Jamaica; the Nation, Barbados and the Chronicle, Guyana.

Until earlier this year, for many years he worked as the current affairs correspondent for the Caribbean News Agency (CANA).

He was founder/president of the Caribbean Media Workers Association (CAMWORK), the first ever regional body to represent journalists of the Caribbean through a network of national associations.

Singh is the recipient of a number of local, regional and international awards for his contribution to journalism, including those presented by the national journalist associations in Jamaica, Barbados and St. Lucia.

Son of sugar estate labourers, Singh's deceased mother remains perhaps the most influential character in his life. He admired her for the fortitude and resilience her life taught him in the face of severe adversities.

He was educated at the Tutorial and Central High schools where he successfully completed the Oxford Based `O' and `A' Level Certificate programmes. Faced by the reality of being born into a poor family, he held the firm view that education was the key to breaking the cycle.

He was grounded in literature at the Georgetown Public Library where he pored over periodicals, newspapers, novels and encyclopaedias in his thirst for knowledge.

Forced to work from an early age, he was to benefit from the guidance of the outstanding Guyanese journalist, W. I. Gomes, then an editor of 'Chronicle' newspaper of colonial British Guiana, when he worked with the company as a junior reporter. His years at the Chronicle were to be his baptism for what emerged as a long and unbroken career in Caribbean journalism.

In 1964, he had moved from the 'Chronicle' to the then 'Guyana Graphic' which was to be subsequently owned by the British newspaper tycoon, Lord Thompson.

It was his commitment to the journalism profession and in overcoming the odds that he was successful in gaining a Fellowship for journalism training at Indiana School of Journalism in the USA.

After some 10 years as Chief Political Reporter of the `Graphic' and News

Editor of its Sunday edition, he was encouraged to take a brief posting with the 'Reading Post' in London while the Thompson Group of Companies and the Guyana Government of then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham worked out arrangements for the acquisition by the State of the 'Graphic' Company.

During his time in pre and post-independent Guyana, he freelanced for a number of American, British and Caribbean publications, including 'Newsweek', the 'Daily Mail' and 'Mirror' of London; the 'Trinidad Express' and 'Barbados Nation' as well as for news services like Reuters, CANA and Gemini.

It was while in England in 1974 that he received an invitation to become

Editor of the 'Caribbean Contact', the then monthly newspaper of the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC).

He is credited with expanding and making this publication popular reading, with progressive and cutting-edge journalism.

With a circulation of 50-55,000 across the region, he edited the paper over a 10-year period before being dislocated in the wake of the 1983 Grenada tragedies of military coup, executions and U.S. military invasion.

In that unprecedented invasion he was to gain notoriety as the single most critical Caribbean media voice in his then capacity as Editor of `Caribbean

Contact' of that U.S.-led military invasion. He had written, controversially, that (October 25, 1983) marked "a dark day" in the history of the Commonwealth Caribbean.

It was a foreign military intervention that could not be justified on any legal or moral grounds, he argued and warned: "A dangerous precedent has been set that could have far-reaching implications for the future peace and security for the entire region..."

His stand on the Grenada invasion and related critical articles contributed to the sudden revocation of his Work Permit by the then Barbados Government of Hon. Tom Adams that had played a key role in the involvement of CARICOM countries in the military intervention.

Dr. John Lent, the American academic perhaps best captured the difficult period in his monograph on "Mass Communications in the Caribbean" (Iowa University Press) when, in a chapter on 'Rickey Singh -- Man without a Country', he wrote:

"When the Barbados Prime Minister (Tom Adams) revoked Rickey Singh's work permit 20 months prematurely in November 1983, it was the third time in a decade the 'Caribbean Contact' editor had to search for a new country because of his writing. He had been forced out of his native Guyana in 1973 and out of Trinidad and Tobago (while editing Contact) in 1978."

"In 1984", Lent further noted, "he was denied a work permit by the pro-Reagan government of (Prime Minister Edward Seaga) of Jamaica after the 'Gleaner' sought authorization for him to be its Caribbean and International News Editor..."

Though not stateless, since he was free to return to his native Guyana, he was virtually adrift in the region to find a place to be gainfully employed in his profession and take care of a family of six children and a wife.

The prevailing post-Grenada climate in official government circles in a number of CARICOM states did not ease his burden. And there was little prospect of him returning to Guyana with children attending primary and secondary schools, no job offers and a government that remained hostile to his writings on political corruption, but which had nevertheless, concurred with his anti-invasion stand as a journalist.

The novelist George Lamming, who needs no introduction in the Caribbean, was to speak passionately on the revocation of Singh's work permit and dislocation from Barbados when he addressed UWI students at the Cave Hill campus on November 7, 1983 on the occasion of "International Students Day".

"Singh", he said, "is rare among West Indians of his generation who chose with courage and passion and integrity to give his work a specific social function...As editor of 'Caribbean Contact' he sought to forge in his readers a consciousness which would make everyone of us feel that the Region was his home, and each native home was also his Region...It has been one of the singular honours of my life to have known him, and to have shared work with him".

A few months later, (February 1984), William Demas, who also needs no introduction in the Caribbean region, writing in his then capacity as

President of the Caribbean Development Bank, said of Singh:

"I can state unhesitatingly that Mr. Rickey Singh is probably among the top three journalists of the English-speaking Caribbean in terms of quality of his writings, his excellent grasp of regional and international issues, the clarity and vigour of his prose and the objectivity and fearlessness of his comments.

"He is also a person of the highest personal integrity and strength of character. He has always adopted principled positions even when he has reason to believe that the adoption of such positions could probably work to the material and financial detriment of himself and family..."

For the now late Archbishop of Port-of-Spain, Anthony Pantin, who was one of the Presidents of the CCC when Singh was Editor of 'Caribbean Contact', he was a man of "strong opinion, unswerving principle and dedicated enthusiasm. Whether one agrees with his views or not, one is bound to admire his honesty of intention and commitment to a cause..."

Rickey Singh has been highly commended in written and oral statements for his contributions as a journalist by other distinguished West Indians.

For example, by Vice-Chancellor of the UWI, Professor Rex Nettleford as "the doyen of syndicated Caribbean journalism"; and by the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community, Edwin Carrington, as "our true Caribbean journalist".

His post-Grenada dilemma to continue functioning as a Caribbean journalist was greatly resolved when he was invited to write a regular weekly column for the 'Nation' newspaper of Barbados.

His choice of the title, `Our Caribbean' for his `Nation' column was a deliberate choice, reflecting his strongly held belief that the Caribbean peoples should see themselves as belonging to 'one Caribbean', and not the fragmented territories characterised by geographical, ethnic, cultural and other divides.

The 'Our Caribbean' column in the 'Nation' was to be the beginning of his region-wide contributions, on a regular basis, with news, features and columns in a number of the leading newspapers within the Caribbean Community.

Today, in addition to his offerings as an editorial contributor and columnist for various newspapers, he served as the Caribbean Affairs Correspondent of the Caribbean News Agency (now merged into the Caribbean Media Corporation) wire and radio services.

His columns appear weekly in the 'Weekend Nation' of Barbados (`Our Caribbean'); in the 'Sunday Express'; `Sunday Chronicle' of Guyana (`The

Rickey Singh Column') and in 'The Observer' in Jamaica.

Singh has specialised over the years in his coverage of issues, events and developments of the Caribbean Community.

With possibly three exceptions, he has covered all of the CARICOM Summits of the Community Heads of Government, starting with the inauguration of the Community at Chaguaramas.

His articles on national elections and other major political, economic and cultural events across the region are also well documented.

** In 1970 he had the privilege of being a co-founder and President of the Guyana Institute of Journalists (GIJ) from which later emerged a resuscitated Guyana Press Association (GPA). Singh was also the first Chairman of the Journalists Branch of the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU) of Guyana.

** Between 1987 and 1998, he was the recipient of various national, regional and international awards for his work in journalism. It is a period that coincided with his 10 years as a co-founder and President of the first-ever regional body to speak for national journalist groups and practitioners of the profession -- the Caribbean Media Workers Association (CAMWORK). The organization was launched in Jamaica in November 1986. He resigned after 10 years and now functions as CAMWORK's Consultant.

** In 1987 he became the recipient of the "Outstanding Journalist of the Year" (Print) award from the Caribbean Publishing and Broadcasting Association and the Caribbean Broadcasting Union.

** In 1992 he received the Caribbean/Latin American award from the International Organisation of Journalists (IOJ) for "Outstanding Contributions in Journalism".

** In 1996 he was honoured by the St. Lucia Media Workers Association

(SLMWA) with a 1996-97 award for "Outstanding and Long Service to Journalism and Freedom of the Press in the Caribbean".

** Also in 1997 the Barbados Association of Journalists (BAJ) awarded him for his "Sterling Contributions to Regional Integration through Excellence and Leadership in Journalism".

** In November 1998 when The Nation Publishing Company of Barbados celebrated its 25th anniversary, he was awarded for his "outstanding contributions" as its Caribbean Correspondent.

** Known for his keen interest in human rights issues, he has served for the past 12 years as Communications Consultant to the Caribbean Human Rights Network (Caribbean Rights).

** He has been serving also for a number of years as a member of the Regional Panel of Judges for PAHO's Annual Media Award for 'Excellence in Health Journalism'.

Singh lives in Barbados with his Guyana-born wife, Dolly, of 43 years marriage.

Their six children are daughters Wendy, Donna, Debbie and Allison, and sons Raoul and Ramon. He is most proud of his 17 "rainbow" grandchildren (as he lovingly refers to them) who live in Barbados and Trinidad.

They range from 10 months to 13 years.