Driving the press away

| 05/12/2011

As a reporter I enjoy covering the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly. Despite the cramped press area and the 'hard' chairs, the hanging around for something to happen, the marathon late night sittings and of course the yelling, sometimes it can be very entertaining and, as a journalist, you can always be sure to get a good story and that is, if we are honest, why we all do our job. But recently it’s become something of a chore, not least because of the speaker's taking against technology.

At risk of stating the obvious, the country’s parliament is an important place, and even though it may well be the best place for Cayman’s first wind-turbine to be situated, quite often stuff that the voting population should be aware of actually does go on there.

It’s not compulsory for the press to cover it. We go because we are well aware that few people are in a position to ‘enjoy’ the proceedings for themselves, and listening to the verbatim coverage on Radio Cayman is not everyone’s idea of a fun night in. Even though we are insulted, berated and railed against, more often than not by the premier (despite the angry words, deep down we know he loves us really), that’s part and parcel of the job.

But to try and hamper our ability to cover the LA with a technology ban is bizarre as it impacts all equally, including the government’s own radio news station.

As is the case in most democracies, people get their take on their country’s politics via the press and here in Cayman the parliament has traditionally been covered pretty well by all of the media houses. But the recent decision by the speaker to stop people taking any form of digital equipment into the House is throwing a Luddite spanner in those works.

The local press corps has appealed to the speaker and asked her to reconsider but she seems intent on ensuring that nothing from the 21st century makes it anywhere near the gallery and we are as yet unsure why.

If I go along today, I am beginning to get a little nervous that my rather modern looking rollerball point pen and my neatly lined notepad made from recycled paper may also be taken from me, as the kindly police officers manning the reception desk hand me a sheet of parchment and an inkwell.

Given that modern news media is more instantaneous than it has ever been, the speaker’s decision to hamstring the press with this technology ban seems even stranger, especially at a time when around the world modern parliaments are bending over backwards to encourage the press to cover the political news as quickly as possible. It also seems at odds with government’s own acknowledgement that it needs to take advantage of technology to improve its efficiency.

While the press has long accepted that phones should not be used in the gallery, they have always been allowed to keep them by their sides so that they can still step away from the proceedings from time to time and deal with other issues when necessary.  The total ban is a new move, in contrast with the rulings of previous speakers like Linford Pierson, who had even ruled lap tops in for press use.

Ironically, the current speaker is a former journalist and should know the difficulties of trying to cover the meetings of the Legislative Assembly, which are always erratic, while at the same time keeping up with news events from myriad other sources. One can only conclude that either things have changed so much from her day that she does not understand the impact on reporters, or that she is well aware of what the ban means.

The motive is very hard to discern and the press core is left wondering why. But in the end reporters can be a fickle bunch and the lure of other more tantalising and exciting stories will soon tempt us away altogether. 

The press will always find something to write about to fill the time, space or pages, so it is not the media that the speaker is harming. It is the public that will be short changed because without the press to digest and regurgitate the proceedings of the public’s parliament into an edible form, the community will be increasingly less informed.

Category: Viewpoint

Comments (25)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The gap between the press and the LA increased when Ezzard made the motion about lagal action against the Cayman Compass reporter.

  2. Len Layman says:

    It goes without saying that any attempt to stifle or limit the press is a direct threat to democracy.  In a democracy a free press puts the government in the eye of the public and by doing so holds them accountable.  Any attempt to limit access of the press is denying the people the right to information concerning their government. 

    We need to speak up and insist we will not tolerate any attempts which may hinder the press from keeping us fully and accurately informed.  This includes their right to report on the proceedings of the LA.   The electronic tools which are being barred should be welcomed as they enable the reporters to report more accurately the proceedings.   Asking them to do this without the electronic tools of their trade would be like asking a surgeon to operate without a scalpel

    I have said before in this forum:  “Freedom of the Press is a basic corner stone of Freedom of Speech.  Freedom of Speech is the foundation of democracy. “

    We need to zealously fight to assure that no one diminishes this freedom and hence our democracy.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ms. Mary is just so antiquated and ancient that she does not deserve to be the speaker of the house.  Christ…., even the queen is more updated in technology than her.  What is it she has to hide anyways? and to think the UDP members are all in favour along with her, makes me believe that they ALL have something to hide from the general public.  One night  I'd listened  to them on the radio and trust me I was so embarrass to be a Caymanian after hearing them.  Ms. Mary is being controlled in the house by the Premier.  Everytime the opposition/s gets up to say something or asked a question, you could hear the Premier jeering in the background and sometimes joined by his sidekick Ellio.  They are an embarrassment to all, especially the Caymanians. They don't want the opposition to question them, but they want them to help them come up with ideas as to how to run this Country.  What a waste of resources. Can't wait for the next elections…

  4. nauticalone says:

    Agree with Wendy and Alden completely on this issue!

    Ms. Mary has proven to be an ever increasing embarrasment.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Well done Wendy!

    Considering the position current world leaders have found themselves in, one would think our leaders would have read or watched enough of the news from around the world to know that now is NOT the time to be pulling dictator antics.

    Just shows you how unprofessional they are and that common sense is a rare thing indeed.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Can't the press get together on this issue and file a complaint to the Governor and the respective authorities in the UK? Clearly it is an attempt to control the media.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Nice viewpoint Wendy, but calling the speaker a “journalist” is a bit of a stretch..

  8. SKEPTICAL says:

    I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. If you really want to upset Beloved Leader, ignore him. No LA reports, no coverage of his public speeches, no photos of him wielding a silver spade and wearing an I’ll fitting hard hat at ground breaking ceremonies, or news videos of his arm waving rants in the House. Be interesting to see the reaction.

  9. Bazza says:

    This Speaker is an expensive relic XXXX

    If you try to follow the logic of this ole bird we are nearly to point where women will be forced to wear burkkas in the LA

    Please explain how come the MLA's can sit on the toys (I mean Ipads, blackberry's) use technology to aid their jobs but journalists are not permitted to do so?

    Oh Guv how's about you gives us a break on the bike-a-thons, marathons, swim meets and vacation mode you're in and do something useful like implement & maintain concepts of good governance, transparency and fundamental demoratic freedoms? The Speaker is making a mockery of the entire show mate and starting to look like a proper clown.

    If the Speaker isnt up to the task. XXXXX

  10. Anonymous says:

    Speaker Lawrence belongs to yesterday's generation of followers of rule books, be they Standing Orders or General Orders. There's no use blaming them for that; they can't help it as these rules give security and dignity (they think) to the way theycarry out their jobs. Since these rule books are updated only every 100 years or so, these poor people get hopelessly out of date in this modern world. Their mantra is "if it aint broke, don't fix it". The trouble is it doesn't necessarily get "broke" – it just changes out of all recognition. The Wright Brothers' plane didn't necessarily get broke; but how many of us would fly anywhere in it today?

    • Anonymous says:

      Brilliant comment 18:51! And to think she used to be a very aggressive "journalist" when she was fighting Jim Bodden's Unity Team Government and the National Team of the 1990s. But Mac was smart. XXXXXX

  11. 0068 says:

    I completely agree with you, stop attending the LA… there are other stories and events that can be covered. They (the LA) actually need the press more than we need them.

    You will will soon hear our elected officials asking why the press no longer attends LA. Then draft a law stating the press must cover the LA proceedings, with a stone tablet and a hammer and chisel?

    • ThatCaymanian says:

      Actually, if you think about it. If the press doesn't cover them, we'd never hear from them. I honestly don't know if the temporary relief from their stupidity would be worth the damage they could do when unmonitored.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Its a disgrace. CNS – Can you start a petition that can be presented to the Governor, sent to UK media, UK FCO – whatever it takes.

  13. Anonymous says:

    We need somebody that follows mckeeva on his trips, record his behaviour and put it on youtube.

    Shortly after we should have elections.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Are analog tape recorders permited???

  15. A person says:

    I don't find it at all puzzling that the  Speaker has banned technology. The country is led by a government that eschews debate, does not tolerate disagreement and cannot take criticism. So one of the more obvious things they can do to minimise that is make it almost impossible for people to know what they are saying in a forum designed to produce the very kind of debate they don't want.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Well said. I could not agree more.

  17. John Evans says:

    Good comment Wendy, do you mind if I add a bit more?.

    Sadly, former journalists who move on to what they see as bigger and better vocations in the public sector tend to be the worst offenders when it comes to interfering with press access to mattersof public interest.

    In the UK you could draw up a long list of journalists, including many who became politicians, lured across to the other side of the fence over the years. In recent times the most notorious were probably Tony Blair's ex-Mirror spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, and David Cameron's former communications director, ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson.

    In my early days as a mature trainee in the UK I worked in a local authority press office alongside several experienced journalists who had moved from exposing the truth to keeping it well hidden. It wasn't until I went freelance and started banging heads with my former colleagues and mentors that it became apparent just how far they had sold out on the principles of honest public communication.

    Nearly 30 years on I'm still, but thankfully not quite so often now,  finding myself having to deal with overpaid former journalists who took public sector posts and cheerfuly eat all the BS that goes with the job.  

    But here I think the problem might be more complex. I'd hate to think this is just another part of a faltering public sector adopting a 'bunker mentality' but more along the lines of, "That's not how it was done in my days." In that the Speaker is quite right. The media in the Cayman Islands no longer print only what the politicians want and sweep all the nasty bits under the carpet. In the nearly 20 years since I first came over and did a travel report attitudes have changed. The days when a shooting in George Town (as happened when I was visiting in 2002) could be covered up or (as was still being tried unsuccessfully with Net News in 2007) reports of an MLA being arrested suppressed have gone.

    With all due respect to the honorable lady, however hard you try you cannot now suddenly turn the clock back and put a lid on things. The showdowns between the LA and members of the media in recent months are an embarrassment to the international reputation of the Islands and if anyone out there thinks for one moment that this is all being ignored over here it's only yourself you are kidding.

    Press censorship, however it's applied, doesn't work. Just over 20 years ago I was coming to the end of a spell working Eastern Europe and even in Albania, at the time possibly the most repressed country in the area where foreign journalists (my visa application top go there said 'salesman') were banned, you could watch foreign TV news somewhere and even find old copies of Western newspapers.

    What I learned then was that there is no way for any government to hide the truth from the media, they can slow things down a bit but in the end they might as well just open up and co-operate. I think it's a lesson that applies here and one the Governor, Duncan Taylor, should heed before the media outside the Cayman Islands start questioning his committment to the concept of a free press.

     

    • Anonymous says:

      Don't forget our very own Ellio Solomon, who as a radio show host slammed the Government for many of the same policies he now supports. One of the worst about-faces is surely his 180 degree shift on whether reports of the Auditor General should be released to the public before the PAC has had a chance to examine them.

      • Anonymous says:

        Rollover Elio… Fetch Elio…. Good boy..

        • Just Commentin' says:

          Elio:

          (pant…pant) Thank you Master Mac! 

           

          (pant…pant) What ever you say, Master M.

           

          (wag…wag…wag) I love pats on the head.

           

          (pant…pant..slobber) What ya want me to do now, Master M, huh? What ya want me to do now?

           

          (pant…pant…wag…wag…) You want me to go bite some of those bad ol' journalists? Huh, Master M? Huh? (grrrrr)

           

          (wag…wag…wag…slobber…pant…pant) Huh? Can I Master M? Can I go bite some journalists? Huh, Master M? Pleeease?

  18. Anonymous says:

    is this good governence, mr governor?????

  19. Anonymous says:

    write to the governor and the fco!….things cannot go on like this!

  20. biker says:

    The downfall of more than one dictatorship has been caused by the populaces use of "new technology and mass communication".

    This is something many dictatorial governments, including China, Syria, Cuba and Myanmar, fear and try to block and censor.