Lawmakers ask AG to prosecute paper & reporter

| 10/12/2010

(CNS): An article in The Caymanian Compass regarding the closed door meetings set to review the Freedom of Information Law and an editorial on the subject stirred up the wrath of the Legislative Assembly on Thursday. The speaker, in a brief statement, said the article and editorial had impugned the integrity of members and fallen foul of Section 18 of the Immunities, Powers and Privileges Law and called for an apology before suspending the reporter’s privilege to report for the remainder of the week. Shortly afterwards, the independent member for North Side took the issue a step further and tabled a motion asking the attorney general to prosecute both the paper and the reporter.

The debate then took most of the day as MLAs chastised the press in varying forms and spoke of the importance of not insulting the processes of democracy and their elected office.

Ezzard Miller suggested the offence committed by the paper was the use of the word “secret” to describe closed door meetings of a select committee to discuss freedom of information and the implication in the article that lawmakers may do something “untoward during those deliberations”. The North Side representative said that when the press writes something about him personally he leaves it alone but  the LA was governed by rules, which were broken by the news article and editorial.

The premier took aim at the press in the debate and pointed out that he had asked the members to form an association to regulate themselves but had been taken to task for it. He said he believed the press was intent on embarrassing the members of the LA and said he wanted to see a higher standard as he was trying to elevate the country.

Criticising the bloggers and the people who call into the radio shows, he also took aim at those who had criticised him for using the word “darling” at a public meeting. Not for the first time, he questioned the credentials of members of the local press and their politics. However, despite his comments and his position that he believed the reporter knew better, he said he would not support prosecuting the Compass, which, he said, was the best newspaper.

“Let us show we are not like them,” he said, asking members to be Christian.

Most of the other members of the House, including those on the government benches, however, did not agree and spoke in support of Miller’s motion criticising the reporter, the article, the editorial and the wider press for articles in the past and for not being responsible.

Alden McLaughlin was the exception, as he agreed with the premier’s position and noted that the speaker’s request for an apology and the sanction were enough. He said the journalist in question, Brent Fuller, was a good reporter who had made one mistake.

Describing Miller’s motion as “a bit over the top”, he warned his parliamentary colleagues not to go down the road of giving the appearance of censoring or intimidating the press. The George Town opposition member said there was always tension between legislators, especially government, and the press but it was to be expected. He said that unless a journalist got their facts wrong, there was little to be gained in trying to take the press on.

Following the debate, the premier said that since the motion was not a Cabinet issue the members of government could vote their conscience. Members voted in favour by nine votes to four. Only Mike Adam and Elio Solomon joined the premier and McLaughlin in voting ‘no’. Both Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and the opposition leader Kurt Tibbetts were absent from the chamber. With Miller’s motion passed, the premier asked Attorney General Sam Bulgin what would happen next.

Bulgin pointed out that the motion was a request to prosecute, not a direction, and as with any legal case, his chambers would examine the evidence and use its discretion about whether there was grounds or if it was in the public interest.

Throughout the debate the members did not discus the issue raised in the article and the editorial, which essentially questioned why the legislators had chosen to hold the select committee, sub-committee review of the FOI law meetings behind closed doors, when it is the members’ discretion to hold the meetings in public if they so choose.

Although select committee meetings are usually ’in camera’ unless witness are being called, how meetings are conducted is a matter for the chair and the members of the committee.

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Comments (37)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Really?  The LA wants the authorities to go after reporters who question what the politicians are up to rather than going after violent criminals – Of course they do.  It just goes to show what a total waste of space and money they are. I suspect that the entry class at Red Bay Primary would do a better job of governing this country.

     

    • anonymous says:

      Your right.  The Red Bay Primary students might remember their parents telling them the difference between right and wrong.

      That and "play nice with others"!

  2. Devil's Avocado says:

    What about satire? What about jokes concerning politicians? What about the right to speak freely? What about the right to draw a silly cartoon, depicting the speaker of the House as a trombone? Is that going to be a crime?

    Examples of countries that I can think of that support those views are Cuba (which doesn’t really any more), Venezuela (a communist dictatorship), North Korea (which is trying to start a world war against South Korea and therefore China and America) and Russia (where you are now free to speak out, but also free to receive a needle in the neck, or ricin in the leg and never be seen again).

    The death of personal freedom.

    Threats to induviduals.

    Intimidation by the government.

    Worrying.

  3. Anonymous says:
    It has been reported in the press that the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly said “When the free press, however, begins whittling away at the root of democracy ……….." then went on to say "that reporting on the Legislative Assembly was a privilege, not a right… It is a privilege that is awarded by my office and which can be revoked by my office”.
    Should it not be the case that in a truly democratic society that reporting on the Legislative Assembly should be a right and not a privilege? After all being a right is at the very roots of democracy. The Speakers talk of revoking the ‘privilege’ may be seen as a threat to the democracy of the Cayman Islands people, a threat to be used when reporting may not go their way.
     If individuals break the law with their reporting then use the law and not threats to the democratic reporting of the Legislative Assembly.

     

  4. Anonymous says:

    Mr.McLaughlin describing Ezzard as being "a bit over the top" is hilarious coming from an individual with a long-established history of blurting out all manner of "over the top" statements. The voice of moderation? I don’t think so.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well, on this occasion Mr. McLaughlin was right. Give credit where credit is due even where you dislike the person.  

  5. Who's whining? says:

     CNS,

    This isn’t the best reporting I have seen you do.  Having listened on radio and seen both articles, I think you left out some very important info.  Don’t protect BF.  He didn’t do his homework and compass overstepped their bounds.

    The Compass Editorial (which no one knows who wrote) referred to the actions as ‘foolishness’ and seemingly made the review to be an assault on freedom.

    Why not refer to that important info in your report?  Brent’s story and the editorial in tandem made it sensational and misleading.  Instead of explaining the process and the way the law is written, they ran after the Information Commissioner’s Office for comments, again which only showed their ignorance of the very law they operate under!

    I think you shouldn’t leave these facts out.  The reason why your press pass hasn’t been pulled is because you do your job right.  Don’t feel sorry for those who don’t do theirs right.  

    Compass’ quality has been plummeting in recent years.  Worse now that Net News scathing editorials aren’t being churned out anymore

    • Mike Hennessy says:

      It is not up to the government to decide who is doing their job "right".  That almost always translates into reporting only stories that put the government in a favorable light.   Covering the Legislative Assembly should be a matter of walking in unarmed, fully dressed (say in a manner that would get you admitted to Fidel Murphy’s) and not disrupting the proceedings.  I deemed the restrictions imposed on the press when it comes to covering the LA completely ridiculous and a sign of a government culture of people being answerable to the government as opposed to the commonly held notion that government should serve the people. 

      I had my share of lively exchanges with Mr. Tibbets and other members of the PPM, but I will give them credit for dealing with me professionally and understanding that I was not attacking them personally, but simply doing my job of trying to understand and accurately report what they were saying.  

      I also should note that Mr. Bush was a regular guest on Cayman Crosstalk when Barrie Quappe was the host and without exception handled the forum with dignity and a willingness to address the issues Barrie raised. 

      The press/government relationship is always going to be a tense one, but the idea of prosecuting a reporter for what at worst might be a poorly chosen word is not in line with what I expect from the people who make up my government.

    • Anonymous says:

      I dont know what you listened to on the radio, but you definitely do not read very well.

      The article explained what the law says, but irrespective of what the law says, is it unreasonable to include the person that deals with the law on an everyday basis: the Information Commissioner?

      Also it speaks volumes that the irony to speak about freedom of information behind closed doors seems to espace you.

      Besides press passes cannot be revoked for bad journalism. Everybody has the right to do their job badly, most of all it seems, our MLAs.

       

       

  6. Anonymous says:

    Ezzard really is becoming dangerous, on Talk Radio Super Tuesday he advocated violence by suggesting hitting someone with a bottle on air in regard to Caymanians seeking employment to get their attention. Thankfully foolishness this was questioned by a co-host.

    But he is ready to spend time going after a reporter about an editorial.

    Instead of Super Tuesday it should be renamed Simple Tuesday.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Is this what these guys devoted their day doing?? Don’t try phony indignation on the population as a cover for your own ineptitude!!!!!  You clowns!!  Overpaid, incompetent, disinterested and entirely useless. The country is going to hell in a hand basket and all you can think of doing is debating a what??? A newspaper article??? Give us a break.

  8. Mike Hennessy says:

    Confuscious say, "Powerful man who tries to shoot messenger bringing bad news, often shoots self in foot". 

  9. John Evans says:

    Looks like a smokescreen to me.

    How convenient that the subject of the debate was alleged misconduct by the Compass not the contents of the article.

    Although it is an odd contrast to his 2006 attack on Cayman Net News, Mr McLaughlin got the balance right, you cannot take members of the media to court every time they report something that annoys you. Going down that road is likely to get Cayman exactly the kind a global media attention the islands can do without at present. In fact by screaming and yelling about this, rather than taking it as part of the rough and tumble of politics, the supporters of the motion are just setting themselves up as targets for wider media attention.

    As for questioning, "the credentials of members of the local press and their politics," I would hazard an educated guess that most members of the media in Cayman are at least as well qualified to do their jobs as the majority of MLAs are to do theirs’ and certainly far less motivated by local politics.

    Follow this decision to its logical conclusion and Cayman risks joining Venezuela and Cuba on the list of regional countries that the international media loves to hate.

  10. A Concerned Young Caymanian Father says:

    If the article and editor had agreed with the "member of the L.A." or was writing something praising him/them or kisstheir butts, he/she would have likely been have been recommended for a raise and/or promotion.

     

  11. Just Commentin' says:

    YEAHHHH!!  If these politicians wanna go to war with the press things will get really interesting around here!  I guess these clowns are not aware of what the press did to Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Hell, the press got Obama elected. Just shows how empty headed Ezzard and those who went along with him really are.

    On a very somber note: This is proof that Ezzard is a very dangerous man! He is every bit as ambitious, if not more ambitious, than Big Mac has ever been. He is just biding his time, hiding his true nature and hoping that he can jockey himself into the Premiere’s seat. But this new and very ill-advised move against a fundamental democratic foundation, a free and uncensored press, shows just what a despotic leader Ezzard would be. Voters BEWARE! Ezzard’s true colours have shown. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing! Not even McKeeva, who has had many axes to grind against the press, moved to support such a move against freedom and democracy.

    The outcome I would love to see is that the war between the politicians and the press escalates to near bloodshed. We see a bunch of "Wikileaks Cayman style" sites and online blogs take aim at the politicians. The local press, Wikis and web blogs incite the heretofore comatose populace to finally take decisive action. In a new election, the people boot out the deadbeats of the current LA crew. The current parties are left to rot. The people vote in some fresh new people who have a real concern for the country and do not play games just to garner power.

    C’mon Press and Media! C’mon bloggers! The first shots have been fired and I am DYING to see some mayhem!

    • Anonymous says:

      You hit the nail on the head with that one.  I think you are absolutely right.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I think Ezzard’s wrong on this one:

    Secret:

    "done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others: secret negotiations. "

    Seems a perfectly apt description

    It may well have been the writer’s intent to imply that something ‘untoward’ may happen without any oversight but I don’t see him having said as much.

    Perhaps if LA had a perfect track record there would be grounds for indignation?

    • Anonymous says:

      The Compass stated that it was a "secret Committee". It is not. Its membership has been publicly disclosed. Its proceedings will be recorded in minutes which will be made public. It will issue a public report as to its conclusions. In any event it’s not simply about one word it is about the overall message that was being conveyed that what the the MLAs were doing was insidious and covered by stealth having as their objective the disabling of FOI, and that they are not to be trusted. Everyone who read the articles would have got that message loud and clear.

      I don’t have any dog in this fight but if you think that a court will interpret the articles based on one word taken in isolation you are sorely mistaken.    

  13. Anonymous says:

    The joke of the free world….

  14. Lachlan MacTavish says:

     If a law is broken in some way then let the authorities do their job. But regulating the press or freedom of speech should never be allowed to happen in Cayman. If I read correctly the Premier voted no because it was a Christian thing to do. I would hope though that the other individuals voting no did so because freedom of speech and the non regulation of the press is extremely important to Cayman.

  15. Anonymous says:

    When this came up on TV it was nearly impossible to figure out what article they were talking about, the TV folks seeming so nervous about referring to the actual article. I read the article and assuming that the quotes were accurate, it looks completely factual. I gather the problem is that it refers to a "secret" meeting, but if you meet "in camera" the meeting is "secret" isn’t it? Isn’t that the definition of in camera (see Wiktionary). If an in camera meeting is not publicly announced at the time, it’s seems even more secret to me.

    It would probably be good to have a lawsuit. It could be instructive both as to free speech and the English language. 

  16. anonymous says:

    We must have respect for the House and the Speaker. Otherwise everything goes down hill from there.

    We cannot return to the “Lawless Caymanas” where everything simply goes.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Mac, Ellio, Alden and Mike did the right thing.

    Thank you!

  18. Anonymous says:

    What a disgraceful waste of time – and the Speaker did not help with her XXXX statement. You would think that all the MLAs treated each other and the House with respect ALL the time. The truth is otherwise. Kudos to Mac on this occasion and also to Alden.

  19. Slowpoke says:

    And people wonder why we need WikiLeaks…

    Also, another reminder that while he may be bright, Ezzard does not have the personality traits required of a Premier.

    All in all, they really earned their money that day – time well spent! 

  20. GR says:

     So glad that the LA is spending the "most of the day" debating this really important topic and there aren’t any important issues (like the National Conservation Law) which are being sidelined!

    • Just Commentin' says:

      You can NOT be serious GR!  (Are you?)

      The country is going to hell in a hand basket, the LA is voting to censor the press and the most urgent issue you can think of is the National Conservation Law for chrissake??!! 

      There are people in these islands who are barely scraping by to survive day to day and all you can conjure up for the attention of the LA is saving trees?  Please tell us you are joking.

      The onerous National Conservation Law is the absolute LAST THING a country in a bad economic straits needs. Yeah, let us enact legislation that will increase the bureaucracy and government budget, place even more of a burden of discouragement on local and foreign developers and heap more cost to the already intolerable cost of living.

      Comments like yours make Mac’s speech look like real good sense.

      • Anonymous9 says:

        Just Commentin’ I think you missed the mark here. (I think you might be the only one)

         

        They wasted the day discussing something, (lawsuit), that will NEVER happen. It was a WASTE of time.

        • Just Commentin' says:

          I missed the mark???  Wha?? Hellooooo…..???

          You are under the impression that they spent the time discussing "a lawsuit" and I am the one who missed the mark??!!  You really MUST be joking, right?

          Oh-my-god! Did you even both to read the article or are you one of those who scroll right down to the Comments so you can throw in your two cents but really do not know what you are writing about?  It is little wonder that this country is going to hell in a hand basket.

          The LA spent the time discussing whether or not to recommend steps to commence a prosecution (a criminal action) not to discuss a lawsuit (a civil case)!! Big, BIG difference!

          I do agree that it is a waste of time to discuss persecuting the press regardless whether it be either a civil or criminal action. But the waste of time is small potatoes compared to the repressive and totalitarian implications surrounding the fact that prosecution was ever seriously discussed. Most chilling is that the recommendation to refer the matter to the Attorney General for prosecution was passed!

          The idea that the time would be better spent focusing on the Conservation Law is wasting time too: judging by the actions taken thus far by the politicians, it ain’t gonna happen either. At least not until certain pet projects are well underway. (I mean we would not want to frighten off Shetty or the eventual port developer or the proponents of dredging the Sound by making them subject to abide by some silly environmentalists’ idea of how the island should develop, now would we?)

           

  21. Daniel the Prophet says:

    What integrity? For some of them there is so little to impugne.

    Have some of them already forgotten the minutiae that might have led to their ascent into that Honourable House? Or do they think the people have forgotten all of the incidents SINCE they were elected?

    If the Fourth Estate should take it upon themselves to weigh each one in the balance, how many do you think would be found wanting?

  22. Anonymous says:

    well, for the first time ever – i am shocked in a positive way by Mac – you MAY just have redeemed yourself on this one……..

    This is censorship, it is putting fear in to those who report, it is intimidation. When Brent Fuller is off island……..hardly anything gets reported in the Compass, he is a fantastic and usually very factual reporter. He works hard, he is dedicated and is probably underpaid!

    Today is Human Rights Day – and to prosecute this man will be a breach of everyone’s human rights, everyone. We will all suffer.

     

     

    • Anonymous says:

      "well, for the first time ever – i am shocked in a positive way by Mac – you MAY just have redeemed yourself on this one…….."

      1. He’s afraid of that petition

      2. he knows better than to take on the press again

      3. Ezzard brought it up

      4. The article has nothing to do with him . If he was criticing him it would be different.