Holding the press to ransom

| 31/03/2009

Monday’s story about former Turtle Farm CEO Joey Ebanks and the possibility that he had been given a salary advance sparked some interesting debate, including whether we should have run the story at all until Mr Ebanks had responded.

However, we believe we made the right decision. It is common practice, especially here in the Cayman Islands, for those in the public eye who are uncomfortable about answering the media’s questions to simply ignore them and hope those pesky news people will go away. The idea that we simply wait until a public figure decides if and when they want to answer us would not bode well for our democratic future.

The role of the Fourth Estate is to keep the public informed, and while responsible media do their best to check all facts presented, we also have a duty to ask questions and to insist on answers. Sometimes, when it appears that a question could be easily put to bed with a suitable response, silence speaks volumes.

Like all media houses, when we receive information about something of public interest, we first weigh the source. If it seems credible, we pursue the lead, often by asking the person or entity that the information is about whether it is true. If it is misinformation, we are generally informed of this pretty quickly.

The story in question came to us from what we considered a very reputable source, and so questions were sent to both Mr Ebanks and the Turtle Farm Board chair. We did not get a response from Mr Ebanks (and still haven’t), even though a denial or an explanation would have been easy enough.

And while the board chair did respond, he did not deny the allegation but rather refused to comment on it. He also noted that a lawyer was involved, which indicated to us that the resignation was not a simple one.

The circumstances are still unclear and we believe that an explanation regarding the alleged salary advance should be forthcoming. Mr Ebanks is a public figure running for election who appears to have entered into some kind of deal regarding public money but has not declared what it is. The rights and wrongs of the situation are for our readers to decide, but they certainly have a right to know what that situation is.

More generally, if the media are as sure as they can be about a story but cannot get answers to their questions, one recourse open to them is to publish the questions – which is what we did here.

CNS does not have political allegiance (despite frequent accusations from party supporters that we support the other party) but we will openly admit to fully embracing at least two major policy initiatives of the PPM administration – the weekly press briefing and the enactment of the Freedom of Information Law. These initiatives, along with an increasingly rigorous media will only benefit these islands.

The idea that anyone in public office can avoid dealing with awkward situations and difficult questions by ignoring them holds the press – and therefore the people – to ransom. If we believe an issue should be in the public domain, it is our job to help it get there not to assist in the cover up. Waiting too long for a response when experience tells us it is unlikely to come anyway undermines the entire principle of an open press and we hope most of our readers will agree and continue to support us in our goal to give Cayman a reliable and speedy news service.
 

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Comments (21)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Excellent work CNS!

    These types of stories/expose`s seperate your media house from the other lazy media houses on island which for the most part simply print yesterday’s stale news.

    It is only with this type of investigative reporting that people become enlightened with the facts.

    Perhaps CNS can consider asking some of the following questions:

    What are the rules/requirements governing these salary advances?

    Is there a limit on the amount, say, one month’s salary?

    Is there an interest rate on the repayment?

    How long do they get to repay these advances?

    Is there a dual signatory sign off?

    Are they offered to everyone in the organisation?

    If Mr. Ebanks was not running for office would this information even make it to the public?

    How many senior govt. officials have outstanding cash advances?

    Are MLA’s entitled to cash advances as well?

    Good luck CNS!  

  2. Julie says:

    One thing to note throughout this entire web site – with all of the PPM postings are – whenever they can’t find a reasonable or adequate answer they always resort to spell checking, no matter how miss-spelt it is you all – always same to understand it. That is what matters. So please enough of the spell checking and give some retorts on where we are wrong and why this government should be allowed to stay. And by the way I was a PPM supporter and helped elect them into office – VOTE straight they told me I did.  I am the turtle coming from the river bottom. Family or not it will not help this time

  3. Julie says:

    This story makes me laugh actually – Here we have a classic tale of the owner getting bit by his own dog. We all know that CNS is bias towards the PPM government, but as humans we all have a tendency to look out for ourselves first and foremost. Now that CNS has found a good tid-bit of a story they could not resist printing, here is where we see the servant moving away from the master. And now the PPM government is getting a piece/ taste of their own medicine – spreading propaganda. The chickens have come home to roast – and it ain’t a pretty sight.

     

    CNS: Funnily enough, some PPM supporters accuse us of being biased towards the UDP. This is what happens when you read with blinkers on.

    • Anonymous says:

      Julie, you are just a UDP sycophant. You see the entire world through UDP lens. You do not even know the facts of Joey’s matter but you are proclaiming that the chickens are coming home "roast". It is "roost" by the way. Propaganda is the specialty of the UDP. The UDP deliberately distorts the facts in order to scare people into voting their way, e.g. draft Constitution – "the PPM wants to grab power from the Governor take us to independence/to be able to tell the police who to arrest". Nonsense of course but many are gullible enough to fall for it. Never mind that the UDP were singing a different tune when they had a draft Constitution in 2003 that offered constitutional advancement.      

      Certainly can’t say I’ve seen any CNS bias in favour of the PPM, but the article did make me wonder about a bias towards UDP. But if I were Ezzard I wouldn’t be so smug.   

  4. Jab-Jab says:

    On The Other Hand – – –  We’ve seen examples where the ‘unable to be reached before press time’ caveat is added to stories (in publications where there is a press time) which is code for ‘we called at 4:50 but got no response in time for the 6pm news’. What may help the press in instances like this is, as someone else mentioned, to outline the timeline of attempts to contact the subject in question. Not only will it lend more credence to a story if "after trying for three days we were unable to illicit any comment" it will remove the spectre of doubt that is in the public mind from other media outlets. Of course, theres a practical problem with this ‘solution’, depending on how time-sensitive the story is, so its no panacea either.

    • Anonymous says:

      This was a total PR blunder if nothing else. But the lack of timely responses from the ministry of tourism and the Turtle farm Board has left joey out on a limb.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Excellent. This is slowly shaping up to be a different type of election where more and more people are asking the tough questions that we were afraid to or simply ignored asking because these politicians were our friends and families. This is business if we are to put you in charge of our funds we need to find out about all aspects of the type of business person you are. nothing personal simply business.

    My question is about these various boards. Maybe CNS can help out with this because there seems to still be too much interference from the Ministers in regards to the daily business of the various boards.  The ICCI Board wascomprised of  a who’s who of Directors and yet thus far has been one of the most embarrassing debacle (that we are aware of) to date.  What happened were rules not followed , are there not sufficient rules in place, who oversees these various boards, wheres the accountability , what’s the criteria in becoming a director etc.. In the private sector they are governed by rules as a matter of fact they recently created CIDA. Is there something similar in the public sector.

    CNS please keep up the pressure so that we can be informed voters in the upcoming elections. What’s up with these large salary advances??We are in a financial crisis we need to stop being so frivilous with the public’s money!!!

    CNS can you also please follow up on the nominees declaration of interest…….please provide the background,deadlines, type of info, public knowledge, non compliant nominees from the previous election etc. 

     

  6. Anonymous says:

    what cns did ewas absolutely correct. too often persons in high position feel that the local media should be an extened brochire for them or their businesses. in fact truith if joey had given cns at least SOME information, cns story would have included this and i am sutre it would have read less negatively.

    looks like there is soemthing here that the public should know. dont stop until you fimnd out cns.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I must chime in with the rest CNS – excellent job. What the people of the Cayman Islands need to understand is that once you place yourself in the public’s light you open yourself and your family up as an open book, nothing is sacred, no holes barred.

     The courts rarely attempt to bring defamation charge against someone from persons who have placed themselves forward as a professional, a role model for others and the country.  If they say the color is blue and the people say it look s black then they must prove them wrong. People who place themselves in a position of trust and high moral standings must be ready to answer to the people. For this is no little job cleaning the street, of dumping garbage (no disrespect intended to those persons performing these jobs – I say this merely to make my point) this is one of the most important jobs in the country. It is a fiduciary relationship between the people and the persons vying to manage their funds.
     
    When candidates make rash decisions and not think through their actions – this is what happens.
     
    We have seen this before, this is nothing new as with the case with Mr. Clifford during the last campaign. He also made a rash decision to run and resigned immediately like Mr. Ebanks. The only reason why Mr. Clifford had to seek a job was that Hurricane Ivan hit the Cayman Islands and the Elections were postponed.
     
    This rinks of the PPM – rash decisions, incomplete thought, irrational behavior and indecisive leadership. We have been down this path before. We need not make the same mistake twice.
    • CNS DEFENDER says:

      CNS – you did the right thing.  Keep up the good work.  Sometimes the truth is not what people really want to hear,  so they get upset with the messenger who dares to bring it.

      Would have thought  Joey would have put  more thought into his decision, obviously Edna stepped down or was pushed out at the last minute and the PPM  had to find someone to replace her.  According to some North Siders her populatiry had  waned anyway, since they felt as it they had been neglected during her time as Speaker of the House.

      • Anonymous says:

        CNS was RIGHT

        I have read the article on Joey and the comments about you printing rumers. Lo and behold I see Mr Ebanks on the TV saying that you were right and that he did pay himself an amount of money, now referred to as a salary advance, that has not been paid back. Polititicians have to understand that they have to come clean with the media on issues such as these.

        No one is saying that Joey did anything illegal, I do not think there is anyone who knows Joey that thinks he is a crook, however this is an employee / employer situation that involves the peoples money. As an employee / employer issue the question is did Joey violate the terms of his contract or did the Board sanction this transaction outside the terms of his contract?

        This is not something that needs to be referred to the police or the auditor general it needs to be decided by the TF board. If there is no irregularity precieved by the members of the board,then why was this not resolved prior to accepting his resignation? There should be no delay in the board members talking to the press. The board needs to do the job they are being paid for and resolve these issues before accepting anyones resignation. Joey deserves no less.

        The reason this is important is that the public needs to know the truth as to whether Mr Joey was allowed to resign or was fired for misappropiation of funds within the company to his own benefit. Joey has admitted he took the money. The only questions are, was he allowed to under the terms of his contract ? If not he should be fired for violating his contract and have to pay any penalties written into the contract. Or, did the board, either through his contract or by some other instrument (minutes of their meetings should clarify this) approve of Joey giving himself this advance? If so they should make a statement forthwith clearing Joey’s name and explaning the cercumstances surrounding this advance and the repayment contract between Joey and the TF to pay it back.

        It is not good enough for the board to aviod the hard questions asked of them by the press and the press detractors to critise the press (CNS) for asking the question.

        This is the peoples money and the PPM promised transparency. Is this transparency only applicable when it is not one of them? Will this end up being a Chuckie of a Sayeed?????

        • Anonymous says:

          "Lo and behold I see Mr Ebanks on the TV saying that you were right and that he did pay himself an amount of money, now referred to as a salary advance, that has not been paid back".

          I did not hear the TV comments but you certainly make it sound illegal.

        • Anonymous says:

          CNS please clarify to the public what efforts were made to contact Mr. Ebanks. I can ask someone to have someone call me, i can text to the wrong number or email an account that is seldom used? I’ve known Joey for over thirty years and will attest that he will not hide from issues and look forward to the conclusion soon.

          CNS:  Aside from the fact that we made every effort to reach Mr Ebanks by phone prior to publishing, this is a live news organization and articles can be updated at any time. If anyone wants to disagree with or add to what we have published, the "Contact Us" button on the top menu shows how to reach us. 

          • Anonymous says:

            CNS in response to your "Contact Us" button it would only be useful after you  have published your story as there would be no reason for Joey to contact you before and since the story is out there i know Joey will respond but with all the criticism posted here it is  very unlikely that he will respond via CNS.

            I will congratulate you on keeping up to date with happenings in Cayman but when posting speculations we open a tin of worms and people form opinions which usually lead to false rumours as is the case here.

            CNS: The only thing that was in our original article that hadn’t at the time been officially confirmed — but that we were sure was true — was that Mr Ebanks had had a salary advance, which he has now confirmed. We believe the terms of the salary advance and how and when it is to be paid back should be in the public domain and Mr Ebanks has agreed with this. See the updated Ebanks may owe Turtle Farm

  8. Anonymous says:

    Good Job!

    People must all understand that there are very important questions that need answers and when the press comes to you for those answers…. we either answer or we risk the chance of speculation, however, doesn’t this kind of approach show us how they will be dealing with government matters once elected.

    It is thought that, we, the people, need to know….. and if we have the right to know…. no one should stop us.

    Had the questions been answered…. the headline would have read something else……. ( a big smile)

  9. Ezzard Miller says:

    I have some concerns that here we have a good example of the messanger being shot because the message is not readly acceptable. I may not always agree with how the press treats a particular issue or topic, but I will always encourage the public discourse that the press provides.

    It has always been my policy and practice and it is my intention to have continued dialog with the media as a means of keeping North Siders informed reguardless of the issue. Being available and accessible to the media as well as holding public meetings in North Side is the only way to allow the persons I hope to represent and whom I live with on a daily basis, to participate in the decision making process on matters that affect them.

    Cayman is at the forefront of interactive media and it is a key tool to understanding the concerns of the public and listen in a non jugemental and individual manner while encouraging the freedom of expression that is so important to a true democracy.

    I have always been a great proponent of participative democracy and will continue to encourage public discourse on all matters affecting our lives.

    • Anonymous says:

      "I have some concerns that here we have a good example of the messanger being shot because the message is not readly acceptable".

      Ezzard, the article obviously serves you well so you are understandably pleased with it, and of course you would like to encourage speculation before the facts are known. Were the shoe on the foot it would be another story.  I am neither for nor against you or Joey but I do believe it was premature to publish such a story as the mere fact that it was considered newsworthy suggests wrongdoing when there is no reason at this point to believe that.  One poster has even suggested that the simple fact that Joey did not immediately give full disclosure is reason to suspect wrongdoing.  That is of course silly. It’s like saying the fact that all of Cayman’s banking records are not readily available to all who ask is reason to believe our banking sector comprises moneylaundering or tax evasion. Insofar as the article gives a "message" it may be a misleading one.  There wil be time enough for "public discourse" when the facts are known. At the end of the day if this amounts to nothing, people will still remember this story.

  10. Anonymous says:

    CNS – Great expose!

    Compass now running it as breaking news – you guys are ahead of the game: http://www.caycompass.com/cgi-bin/CFPnews.cgi?ID=10381289

  11. Anonymous says:

    I realize thatthe media makes it money mainly from BAD news!  But when it comes to targetting someone character and repreputation it is truly unnecessary, espeically when the information is unfounded. How many times have we heard about information from "very reputable sources" and in the end it is not true!  People talk and sometimes its just to hear themselves! 

    It is sad that in Cayman we seem to have lost the important aspects of who we are as a people.  What happen to a fair fight? What happen to supporting and looking out for your brother and sister even when they are down?  It seems that we are now looking forward to any and all negativity that we can find on each other to bring each other down!

    CNS I would hope that would be professional enough to keep your stories based on facts and on based on what you consider "very reputable sources"  because you are only causing unnecessary problems for our own people.  Write your stories, I look forward to them, but don’t allow corruption and evil minds to drive your topics!!! 

  12. Anonymous says:

    Absolutely correct!

    Who authorized and advanced this loan? Who knew about it?  This is no ordinary salary advance.  This is a favour to a political ally usingpublic funds on the eve of his election bid for a seat in Parliament. Simple as that. This will be a costly political mistake and it just reeks to high heaven.

  13. Anonymous says:

    CNS You did a good job! DO NOT be swayed by a few Joey supporters who are clueless and cannot read. The article was timely and informative.

    The mere fact that Joey refused to respond to your request for an interview does not mean that there was anything wrong with the story. If he had nothing to hide he should have practiced full disclosure.

    Lawyer involvedyou say- again an interesting tidbit. There was not even a lawyer involved when Chuckie resigned. I’m sure that Joey will regret that day he chose to ignore the media. Ignoring the media is a tactic used here in hopes that the story will not get published. I’m glad that CNS is not accepting those standards and ran with the story anyway.

    Brilliant story; well written and we the people need to know. Now this has brought to light another matter with Joey – has he properly and formerly resigned? If he has not he will not be disqualified.

    The mentality of this bunch – PPM members and UDP members alike – shows that they have little regard for the rules that the rest of us are forced to live by each and every day.

    While I feel sorry for him you have to be prepared to dot your i’s and cross your T’s. We don’t need people who can’t do that in their personal affairs running for public office anyway. We speak of greater accountability BUT when it comes down to it we want to castigate the media for doing their job?

    Come on people. Have some standards. CNS has clearly demonstrated journalistic integrity and acumen and I for applaud them for it.

    Keep up the good work CNS – right now you are the best news source in Cayman!