On freedom of speech

Recently, I wrote a letter to the Caymanian Compass, commenting on the ongoing campaign by the Cayman Net News to infer that the present Government is opposed to freedom of speech.

The main thrust of that letter was that Cayman has never, since the Compass first began publishing, seen such willingness on the part of the public to comment on their government and to sign their names.

My conclusion is that, for the first time, Caymanians are unafraid of retribution and that our Government, far from suppressing free speech, is to be congratulated on creating such an atmosphere of free speech, even when it results in Government itself receiving criticism. This is highly commendable and should be recognized.

On 29 January, Mr. John Henry Ebanks wrote a very perceptive reply to that letter, stating that, while he felt my letter had merit, there is another reason that people now express themselves more openly.

John first pointed out that, some 35 five years ago, when the Compass first began publishing, many Caymanians were either schoolchildren or lived abroad.

This is quite true.

Back then, our population was one-fifth what it is now. I would add to his argument that many of us were reluctant to criticize anyone publicly, as we all knew each other personally. It was understandable that we would not wish to criticize someone in the press, when we were likely to be sitting next to him in church the following Sunday.

He also points out that we socialized more then and we were more likely to thrash out a disagreement over a Heineken. This was very much the case back then and I expect that he misses this bygone method of resolution as much as I do.

He further states that, back then, we feared customers not patronizing our businesses or having a loan called in. True, again.

John states that, as he sees it, we now choose to speak out because of our maturing society and because, ‘We see that keeping our mouths shut has gotten us nowhere,’ and we now demand more from our governments than we did before. There is no question in my mind that this is true.

Caymanians, on the whole, have grown increasingly frustrated as life has become more complex and Government has gotten ever bigger.

I disagree with John on only his final points. He believes that, ‘We express ourselves through the media more often because there are more channels of communication band our people in general are more educated, more conscious and more capable.’ While this is true, it does not explain the lack of fear in speaking out.

John goes on to say that the willingness to speak is ‘Not due to the PPM,’ that, ‘The process started long before the PPM was born.’ Again, the desire to speak out has unquestionably been on the increase, but, until recently, the fear, in my estimation, had not been overcome.

As I perceive it, in the last two years, there has been a great opening up by Caymanians. People are speaking out who have never spoken out before.

Those who speak out now are more inclined to be specific, in sometimes very caustic terms. People are speaking out more frequently.

Lastly, the many years of ‘name withheld’ are over. Caymanians of every walk of life now say exactly what they wish to say, do so publicly and sign their names. This, without question, is a new development.

We all grumble about Government from time to time. This will always be true, regardless of who forms the Government of the day. I do my own share of grumbling from time to time. I do believe, however, that when a government makes a quantum leap in the direction of greater freedom for the public, we should stand back and ask for a round of applause.

Steve Hawley

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