Observe and report

| 15/08/2009

“The angry crowd yelled insults and obscenities at the politician, who appeared visibly shaken as he tried to make himself heard above the shouts and boos.” Or to put it another way, “The politician spoke to a packed audience.”

If the first version is an accurate account of events then the second isn’t, not because of what it says but because of what it doesn’t. The job of a journalist is to observe and report, and there are occasions when a ‘he said, she said’ account does a disservice to the readers because observations are a necessary component of the truth.

Most people do not have time to go to political meetings, sit through sessions of the LA, cover court cases and tribunals, and attend Public Accounts Committee meetings. That’s our job – to be the eyes and the ears of the public, to sit through 2, 3, 4, even 5 hours of an event and then condenseit into 800 or 1,000 words. And because we are immersed in current affairs day in and day out, journalists are sometimes in a better position than most to connect the dots. So if a politician says on Monday that his favourite colour is green and then swears on his mother’s grave Tuesday that it’s blue, it is our job to point that discrepancy out. That is not editorialising, it is observation.

Sometimes the truth hurts. If that same politician turns up at a meeting without his trousers on, the public has a right to know, even though he might be upset when people read about it and learn of his unfortunate lapse. And if everyone else at the meeting complements him on the colour of his tie but pretends not to notice that he doesn’t have any trousers on, well, that’s worthy of comment, too. Action and reaction matter.

By the same token, if it is apparent that an MLA who is paid, as we recently found out, more than $9,000 per month is not doing what he is required to do, it is most certainly part of the journalist’s job to report that to the public.

During the last few meetings of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) it has been glaringly obvious to anyone observing the proceedings that at least two of the members are not doing their jobs properly. This is not because they are new or because they are learning the role; it is because they have simply not read the reports they are meant to be scrutinizing.

As reporters we can ignore those shortcomings and just say that the committee asked some questionsand then adjourned, or we can tell the truth. It is not editorialising to say that a meeting was bogged down in details that were irrelevant to the report supposedly being discussed. It is not editorialising to say that the questions appeared to be based on misunderstandings, or that they were unclear, or that the same ones were asked over and over again. It is not editorialising to note that a committee member insisted on calling a particular witness, and then didn’t ask him anything. These are observations.

This is editorialising: The two politicians in question should have earned this month’s $9,000 by actually reading the reports that were to be discussed from cover to cover and by making sure that they understood them before the meeting started. That way they could avoid questions that had already been answered in the reports and instead ask sensible questions to get to the bottom of how public money is spent. They should have made it their special mission, once voted onto PAC, to understand the function and workings of the committee so they did not waste everyone’s time going off on irrelevant tangents.

What elected representatives do and don’t do should be a matter for public discussion. Voters should know what the people they have elected are doing to protect their interests. If they are voted to a committee by their peers in the Legislative Assembly they must be held accountable for how they conduct themselves in those meetings. With few people attending PAC meetings, or any other LA meetings for that matter, the handful of reporters who attend are the only people who can tell the people honestly what actually happened.

There is a habit here in the Cayman Islands of not being entirely honest about what politicians say and do in order to protect them from ridicule when they make a blunder or don’t seem to have a clear grasp of an issue. But the job of reporting is not to protect the politicians but to represent the public. We should not be afraid to tell the real story – because if we don’t, who will?

We believe that the public deserves to know what the elected representatives, who have been entrusted by the voters to serve, do for their salary, and for that they need more honest reporting than they bland fare they have been used to. Some people have criticised our coverage of the recent PAC meeting, but for CNS not to have told the observable truth about such obvious andevident shortcomings on the part of elected MLAs would have been a disservice to the people who voted for them.
 

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Comments (16)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I am not surprised but am surely dissappointed and disgusted by the performance of our so-called MLAs in their first few months – on both sides!

    Ellio, seriously! a new benz within weeks of election after campaigning about hard times being faced by people?? People that fell for your humble Joe the Plumber routine are not impressed with that move! 

    and remember how Elio said he lied abuot having a degree because he claimed he couldnt get a degree because of the financial expenses for his special needs child?? and you do this is a slap in the face of everybody that supported you!

    how are you going to pull up at poor people house to talk about hard times or lecture people about economizing  – in a shiny benz ML jeep you ran out and bought a feww weeks after election???

    remember this Cayman – cuz unna have short memories! by the time the next election comes ellio will try to talk you into forgetting this 

  2. Anonymous says:

    For not taking the time to read the report, this would not  surprise me about (John John), Elio yes,  as he hammered the PPM on the talk show daily so I would  expect so much more from him, now that you have the Torch in your hands Mr. Solomon PERFORM YOU MUST!. SHOW US WHAT YOU CAN DO, AS YOU CLAIMED TO KNOW IT ALL BEFORE THE ELECTION! SHOW US YOUR TRUE COLORS!

    During the election your leader was quoted as saying that there were people sleeping in cars, has this situation now changed?  I wonder if you Elio gave them your old car to sleep in. The common man that you were campaigning for, are they still jobless?,  maybe you could have given them the  35k-45k that you spent on your ML, that is if you had their best interest at heart. They are still driving the old beat up ford truck.  

    You are all for what you can get! Not about us the Caymanian people, you all are in bed with who can line your pockets.

    CNS please continue to report on the good, bad and ugly. Well done.  

  3. Annoymous says:

    Don’t be worried poster we the populous out here are watching Ellio and his croonies.  We are recording his every move and will hold him accountable to everything he had so much to say about the previous administration.  Ellio is a loud mouth empty barrel who has nothing but noise in his head, if you hear noise all the time then what do you think will happen when you open your mouth, noise will come out.

    Also, what kind of example is that sending to others out here in the community whom are starving to death, as he put it many times on the air, and the minute he gets elected instead of buying a humble Toyota he runs off and buys a Mercedes Benz.  I am so dissappointed in him and I regret the X i gave him in GT.  But he won’t be getting it again from me and my family again.

    I remember Ellio calling us all up for days and days before the election reminding us about all the hellish wasteful spending did stuff the PPM did, and look at him, he went out and spent all of our hard earned money, and it is ours cuz if we don’t pay taxes in this country we wouldn’t have gotten his new car.

    I am ashamed and disgusted with him and so is my family and the majority of my friends too.

    Is there any way we can have a recall of this Election if these representatives can’t do their job?

    GT disappointed Voter!!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Whilst I don’t agree with the original CNS story(posting) and agree that it was more of an editorial. I don’t want us to get bogged down in that, that we miss the key piece of information being provided.  We have 2 politicians posturing and failing to take seriously and do the job that they were tasked with!!

    This is where we as Caymanians need to do our part now that the media has in fact done theirs. We need to call up these guys and let them know we are paying attention and we are not impressed. No need to wait 4 years start calling them up now, especially Ellio, he now has the power he needs to do something about it. I find that to be a strong indicator of a poor character for you to show up to a meeting to be disruptive and not productive and not reading the very report that you are there to discuss. How could you have not read the report?? Pathetic. Caymanians let your disgust be known – we must STOP tolerating this crap from these politicians. In addition to the fact that he now wants to stop the AG’s report from being released to be public as is but revert to the old method of going through the PAC first!! Un-acceptable and ironic that the same man screaming for transparency and accountability is now the same one trying to take that away from us.

    Caymanians let your voices be heard loud and clear. They are only going to get away with what we let them get away with!!! I could care less about UDP and PPM but I do care about what is best for this COUNTRY!!!!!

    • Anonymous says:

      This is what happens when you are used to taking shots at people on the radio without any basis. The radio audience mostly thought he was great, but 90% of the time he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.  

  5. Anonymous says:

    hope all those 1200 GT clowns that voted for Elio are paying attention to what we are getting for $9,000 per month. Can’t even read the report before the committee. 

    Guess he is too busy shining his new benz?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Imagine if this is the manner in which they perform at PAC meetings, what will they do in the Legislative meetings.  Some were complaining about more notice being given to attend meetings, for the salary they are paid and the few meetings they attend they have no right to complain. That kind of behaviour could only be accepted from those politicians of the past who gave of their time freely.

  7. Hugh Stephenson says:

    When politicians waste the time and money of the electorate they deserved to be questioned and called out. That is a statement I fully stand by. If it was the journalist’s opinion that this instance fell in to such a category, then the writer should feel compelled to express that opinion, in a column or editorial like the one this writer is responding to. However, that does not mean that a journalist should take their opinions, construe them as facts and then present them as an article.

    One could easily have asked the opposition member, independent chairman or auditor-general whether or not they were satisfied with the member’s questions. Even a simple “no comment” response would have expressed a great deal. The readers of CNS do not need the journalists to interpret events on their behalf.

    When I responded to the initial article I did not express disagreement with the writer’s sentiment, nor did I intent to do so. The point I made, and continue to stand by, is just this: the appropriate forum for such an opinion would have been an editorial—like this one. In fact by writing an editorial in the first place even more readers would have found their attention drawn to issue. And, by the way, I obviously wasn’t alone in expressing that sentiment. I believe that CNS does a commendable job bringing news to the public in a prompt manner while still maintaining journalistic integrity. This is precisely why I was so disappointed to read the original article on the PAC, because it failed to meet the high standard CNS sets for itself on a daily (if not hourly) basis.
     

  8. "Islamis peace" --G.W. Bush says:

    Who are the two politicians we are talking about here?

    Also, how do you feel about the almost universal practice in Cayman of "cleaning up" our politicians’ grammar in print journalism? Is it proper for reporters to change quotes so that our politicians comes off as having a better grasp of "proper" English than they really do? All newspapers do that here. Is it dishonest? Bad journalism? Trivial?

  9. Cicero says:

     

    Should one be able to understand accounts to sit on the PAC. Seems logical to me.

    Are the members of PAC so versed?

    • Anonymous says:

      That would rule out most of the members!

      Perhaps this is why Ellio and Dwayne are so lost — did Ellio do any of his ahem "bachelor studies" in accounting management? lol!

  10. Anonymous says:

    While the article written was good, it would have been nice to name the politicians in question.   It is about time that journalists in this country start practicising journalism.   Whenever I read accounts of congress, parliament etc from any other country, the names of the said policitians are publicised. Perhaps if we start speaking in specifics rather than generalities we may get some work done in this country.

    CNS: Read PAC gets bogged down on Matrix

  11. GT Ninja says:

    “The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is. [For] to a degree, people read the press to inform themselves-and the better the teacher, the better the student body.”

    – Warren Buffett

     

    I love you CNS!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thank you CNS.

    It is only through accurate reporting that we can hold our leadership to account. And, it is only by holding them to account that true progress can be achieved.

    The Cayman Islands deserve no less. 

  13. Anonymous says:

    A-men

     

     

    • Anonymous says:

      Good for you Wendy, but at the same remember that there are some there, that are doing their very best to represent , and make things better for us…Help them as well, please, but I agree, don’t let anyone off the hook. You have a very powerful tool for good….We need to remind all of us, to help out those less fortunate, for instance…Government does not have the capacity to do everthing, especially now, We have to , eahc and everone, even if it’s five or ten bucks, give to a charity…NCVO or the Pines, or any organization… There are many, many of us that need help. Let us focus on helping each other.