The Sark newspaper measured as the fourth pillar of Sark’s democracy

slimmer John donnelly

Deputy Editor – John Donnelly

Strange as it may seem in my role as Deputy Editor of The Sark Newspaper since its inception, I cannot recall ever being asked by the Editor to follow any particular line or express any opinion, so it was a surprise to be asked to complete a page “reflecting on my years as the Deputy Editor”. As usual, nothing more particular in terms of latitude, but then I suppose that did not surprise since anything other than notice that we were halfway to the end of the week and the Friday publication has been as regular as Sark’s Church clock on a good day. Instead of trying to recollect the many subjects covered, I would like to express some opinion on the importance to Sark of what is usually termed the ‘Fourth Pillar of Democracy’.
It was apparently the British and Irish Statesman Edmund Burke who utilised the term ‘fourth estate’; the other three comprising the judiciary, executive and legislature constituting the ‘Four Pillars of Democracy’. Of course, back in the 1700s, the phrases ‘media’ and ‘digital’ were a long way off and indeed newspapers were yet to fill their full potential in everyday life. Freedom of the press and editorial freedom is surely the best of instruments to hold governments accountable to their people. Through process of facilitating transparency, often thereby stimulating interest of their audience, the wider media provides a function magnified beyond its financial cost to the public. Needless to say, in a small community such as Sark unwanted exposure or criticism of government often invites resentment and hostility. However, we appear to have reached the point where interest in evidence-based policies has led to broad acceptance of the need for differing opinions which seeks to stimulate more diverse and increasingly vocal debate in Chief Pleas.
On account of the independence that the majority of the people of Sark support, it seems that the Island’s ‘fourth pillar to its democracy’ should continue in some credible and informative form. Certainly, the Island’s government has made considerable strides in allowing Islanders to hear debate without being physically present and this is something which might not yet have happened without The Sark Newspaper. Governments worldwide are criticised for losing the confidence of the people and we need look no further than the United Kingdom for the most recent example where a majority of parliamentarians are at odds with the country’s leader.
In difficult times, where a high level of consensus is useful attending to domestic and international affairs, this is clearly damaging to encouraging acceptable solution-based government policies. Sark is no exception to the effects of energy, goods and services cost increases so hopefully local media will continue to play its part in publishing of possible positive policy solutions.
In my experience the government and people of Sark have a way of rising to challenges in the face of adversity with a proud heritage most notably during the course of the Occupation when society was tested beyond imagination and emerged triumphant. Given the Island kept significant enemy resources including, at one time, over 500 troops (against a local population of 400). The occupiers constructed fortifications and weapons and munitions including 13,000 mines. Sark even had its own hero in the form of the Island’s baker, Herbert Lanyon, who was arrested for distributing the ‘Guernsey Underground News’ compiled from BBC News broadcasts. Mr Lanyon was harshly interrogated by the Wehrmacht Feldgendarmerie, the army police. Mr Lanyon, whose grandson Michael still lives in Sark, must surely be the most illustrious of Sark’s own ‘newsmen’, and a model of fortitude and determination for which residents past and present should be forever grateful.
In conclusion, although The Sark Newspaper, and its predecessor The Sark Newsletter, has had criticisms aplenty, it has very often received generous acclaim, usually in confidence, for reporting and commenting on locally controversial subject matters and this, in my opinion, has justified the otherwise unrewarding foray into what I would describe as modest journalism. Especially when compared to my grandfather who was Manager of The People newspapers in Ireland and founded the Irish Tatler and Sketch as well as my Uncle who founded Motoring Life which he edited for 25 years: 1.68111
On a final note, one local newspaper title acquired by my sister in her then role as Managing Director of a Scottish newspaper group was the ‘IMPARTIAL REPORTER’ which was based in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. This was the local newspaper where I went to school, and I continue to admire it as Ireland’s third oldest weekly title founded in 1825. The title alone inspires confidence and I have been quite inspired by its history in my modest endeavours by trying to add something to Sark’s fourth pillar to democracy.

This article first appeared in the Sark Newspaper : June 10th 2022

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