MLAs fear right’s impact on religious radio

| 30/05/2008

Minister for Communication, Works and Infrastructure, Arden McLean,
said that it was anybody’s guess what would happen with a Bill of
Rights, but added that it was not plausible that it would affect the
number of hours of Christian programmes on the station.

Coming to his support, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts
said categorically that Radio Cayman would still continue its
programmes as they have been to date. However, Julianna O’Connor
Connolly, Opposition Member for the Sister Islands, asked if the Bill
of Rights would allow other religions equal broadcast time to promote
their faiths and how it would affect the current situation of
exclusive Christian broadcasting.

“Does it mean it will open it up to other religions, be it Hinduism,
Satanism or whatever type of ‘ism?” she asked. “I cannot understand
how it won’t affect it, especially considering how much it is likely
to affect the Sunday Trading Laws. Why is this in isolation – I just
don’t follow the logic.”

McLean noted that Radio Cayman controls the content of its
broadcasting and he suspected that other recognised legal religions
would be able to purchase air time, but he expected Christianity would
compose the bulk of religious programming.

Cline Glidden, opposition member for West Bay asked him to clarify
whether or not a Bill of Rights would prevent government from
discriminating, and how Radio Cayman could not offer equality to other
religions. He said that, as a government radio station, it would have
to give equal time to other recognised faiths.

McLean acknowledged that other religions would have a right to
broadcast but not necessarily in equal weight, provided Christians
remained in the majority. “It is obvious that if there are other
religions which are currently recognised in this country they have the
same right as any other religion,” he said. “But there is no
indication here that Christianity will not be the predominant religion
in the Cayman Islands – it depends on how many Christians are here,
doesn’t it?”

Glidden suggested that there was a disconnect over the understanding
of the Bill of Rights as it was designed to protect minorities, but
the Minister was suggesting that the majority of Christians would
dominate. He said that it was clear that more discussion was needed to
understand what it would really mean to broadcasting equality.

“No one is saying that Christianity will not be allowed to be
practised. What we are saying is that it won’t be exclusively
Christian. It would mean there will be equal airtime given to all
religions,” said Glidden.

Tibbetts emphasised that the Bill of Rights was about protecting
citizens against the actions of the government. However O’Connor
Connolly noted that this was exactly the issue. “With the greatest
respect, this would then be a prime example,” she said. “This is a
government radio station coming for government funding for 100%
Christian broadcasting, which I agree with. Once we have a Bill of
Rights proposed by the PPM, I cannot see how this situation can
continue. If the PPM hasn’t considered the ramifications, then they
need to because this is going to radically change our community.”

Tibbetts said that the Bill of Rights would recognise the Christian
heritage of the people of the Cayman Islands. Radio Cayman would
remain the same and continue to have the right to broadcast Christian
programmes. “It does not mean that because of a Bill of Rights that
Radio Cayman will have to give equalairtime to any other religions,”
he said.

Stepping into the discussion, Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush
said he could not follow the logic of the LoGB’s argument, and he
noted that once they were in the UK everything could be different, and
no one would know what would really happen here once a Bill of Rights
is in place.

The LoGB did acknowledge some uncertainty when he said he did not know
for sure what the UK would say about the proposals, but based on the
2003 negotiations and the constitutions of other territories, he
concluded that the Bill of Rights is simply about the actions of the
government against its citizens.

The opposition said they perceived that other religions will have to
be given equal opportunity under a Bill of Rights and that is was
clear more advice was required on the subject. They asked the
government to check if exclusive broadcasting of Christianity on Radio
Cayman would be considered institutionalised religious discrimination.
The LoGB confirmed that he would seek advice and prove that Radio
Cayman could continue on its current path even under a Bill of Rights.

The Human Rights Committee confirmed to CNS that, according to
accepted international principles, a government entity should not
discriminate in its policies where fundamental rights, such as freedom
of expression, are concerned.



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