Clarke hailed as titan of Caribbean media

Clarke hailed as titan of Caribbean media

Friday, May 22, 2020

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More tribues have been paid to former Gleaner Company Chairman Oliver Clarke who passed away last Saturday night at the age of 75 after a long battle with cancer.

The Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) described Clarke as a titan of Caribbean media, adding that his mission was centred on press freedom and media independence.

“His most outstanding contribution was his role in turning around an ailing Gleaner Company in the 70s at a pivotal time when an unpopular political ideology threatened Jamaica. It was on this newfound financial strength that The Gleaner was able to lead a charge to influence Jamaica's development in all facets,” the MAJ said.

“With his counterparts and friends Harold Hoyte of the Nation in Barbados, J Lester Spaulding of Radio Jamaica Limited, and Ken Gordon of the Trinidad Express, Oliver championed a united regional media giving birth to the Caribbean News Agency and the Caribbean Broadcasting Union.

“His contribution and sustained support for the Media Association of Jamaica provided the stable platform for the organisation's development into the longest such in the region. It was his innate ability to bring like-minded media leaders together to forge a common purpose.

“The unique relationship with his friend and competitor, Lester Spaulding, and his remarkable foresight paved the way for the eventual amalgamation of The Gleaner and Radio Jamaica Limited, two long-standing and distinct media houses.

“He demonstrated his media leadership by bridging the gap between the English-speaking Caribbean and Latin America as a highly competent leader of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), the pre-eminent freedom of the press lobby organisation for the Americas. He brought to IAPA a strong sense of fairness and demonstrated the equality of mission beyond the persistent impression that differences in language were a barrier to unity.

“The quality and growth of Jamaica's media environment and its excellent level of press freedom attained are the legacies of the work and passion of Oliver. His quiet but determined influence helped to shape the media industry of Jamaica and the region.

“Oliver Clarke will forever be regarded as a media pioneer, a press freedom fighter and one who transformed the business of media into a critical contributor to national development. Our deepest sympathies are extended to his family and our colleagues within the RJRGleaner Communications Group.”

Oliver became the medium, and his vision the message

Veteran Government Member of Parliament Mike Henry said:

“It has been said that the 'medium is the message'. One could be forgiven if one were to suggest that this could be applied, without fear of contradiction, to Oliver Frederick Clarke.

“His message has always been steeped in the principles of integrity and service to country, sprinkled with wry humour, and his access to a medium or media for his message has expanded with the passage of time.

“However, to stop there would be a disservice to the life of a true Jamaican patriot, because by his consistency of purpose, word and deed, Oliver became the medium, and his vision the message.

“I remember him well, like so many others who have shared, as they remind us of many facets of his career. My memory of Oliver which I choose to share is of our discussions in a little restaurant on Main Street in May Pen as Oliver made one of many road trips to secure funding for the then vilified and financially pressured Gleaner.

“The fortunate outcome of his tireless efforts is the press freedom which so many media houses in Jamaica enjoy today. As a fellow publisher I am honoured, privileged and humbled to have known and to have been inspired by OFC.

Farewell Oliver, and the printer's devil be damned.”

A life-long commitment to the improvement of Jamaica

The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica, in its tribute, said Clarke was one of Jamaica's most successful and visionary businessmen.

“He, along with the late J Lester Spaulding, was the main architect of the industry-reshaping merger of Radio Jamaica and the Gleaner Company. These two diverse media operations were combined to form a regional powerhouse that set the benchmark for the future of journalism and media in the Caribbean.

“Clarke was one of the first to see that the industry was being completely disrupted by social media, streaming services and shifts in consumer behaviour, and that swift and decisive action was needed in order to ensure that real journalism could remain economically viable.

“His wisdom and business talents made him much in demand. He was one of the founders of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica and, in addition to serving as the chairman of the RJRGleaner Communications Group, Mr Clarke also served as the chairman of the Jamaica National Building Society, JN Bank, and was chairman of the Jamaica National Group up to the time of his passing.

He had a life-long commitment to the improvement of Jamaica, was deeply distressed by the level of violence in the country, and founded the Peace and Love in Society (PALS) organisation to try to prevent bloodshed.

Perhaps his greatest contribution, however, is that he was Jamaica's most tireless and fierce champion of press freedom. During his four decades of leadership at the Gleaner Company, he fought for the media to remain free so that they could fearlessly serve the public interest by exposing corruption and wrong-doing, by speaking truth to power, and by providing citizens with the facts so they could make better-informed decisions and participate fully in the life of a democracy.

His passions were real, but he also had a superb sense of wry humour. He could gently insult the powerful and pompous with such wit and style that even they would laugh. Oliver Clarke leaves a legacy which may never be matched.

The Broadcasting Commission extends its heartfelt condolence to his family, friends, colleagues in the private and public sectors and the global media community.

A great Jamaican patriot

Northern Caribbean University (NCU) said that as managing director and chairman of the Gleaner Company for more than four decades, and later chairman of the RJRGleaner Group, Clarke helped to shape the contours of the free society that Jamaicans now enjoy. This has been the basis of individual and collective advancement in other important areas such as education.

Describing Clarke as a great Jamaican patriot, NCU President Dr Lincoln Edward said the late businessman “advocated tirelessly to protect and promote press freedom across the Americas through international forums such as the Inter-American Press Association as well as the Commonwealth Press Association

He pointed out that it was in recognition of Clarke's distinguished public service that the university conferred on him the Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, during the institution's commencement in August 2013, where he delivered the keynote address. He remained a friend of the institution.

“The administration of Northern Caribbean University extends deepest sympathies to Mr Clarke's bereaved family and business associates. We wish for them God's comfort and peace during this time of mourning.”


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