Cayman media accused of bias

A Cayman Islands Cabinet Minister has publicly accused two local media operations of blatant political bias toward the People’s Progressive Movement government.

Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said during a Cabinet press briefing that the Rooster 101.9 morning drive-time talk show and the Cayman Net News were ‘manned by political aspirants’ and ‘former politicians who perhaps aspire still.’

‘One of the fundamental problems that the country is having in this new environment of openness and transparency and a government that talks to the media on a regular basis…is trying to determine what is objective and what isn’t,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.

Mr. McLaughlin has been a frequent media critic, particularly of the Net News, accusing the newspaper in December of being at the centre of what he called a ‘constituency of darkness’ in the Cayman Islands.

However, a group of UK media professionals contacted by the Caymanian Compass said Mr. McLaughlin’s comments about political office-seekers working for media organisations raise interesting ethical questions.

‘This is a very relevant issue with the whole moral dilemma of journalistic ethics being very much in front of the people’s minds at the moment,’ said Lindsay Ross, executive director of the Commonwealth Press Union in London.

Mr. McLaughlin did not mention anyone by name at the 20 July press briefing. However, his comments were clearly directed at Rooster talk show host Ellio Solomon, and Net News journalist Lyndon Martin.

Mr. Martin was an elected member of the Legislative Assembly from 2000-2005. He took his job at the Net News earlier this year and writes both straight news stories as well as opinion pieces and news analysis for the paper. During the latter stages of his term in office, he was a member of the United Democratic Party government. The UDP was defeated in the May 2005 elections by the People’s Progressive Movement.

Mr. Martin wrote an e-mail response to Compass queries concerning this article. He stated he had not yet decided on future political plans, but mentioned that, as a condition of his employment, he would have to resign from the Net News prior to entering ‘active politics.’

Mr. Solomon, who ran unsuccessfully for office in 2005, also sent an e-mail response to the Compass. He said he intended to run again in 2009, but he noted his show had given airtime in the past to almost every minister in government.

‘Mr. McLaughlin and just about every minister has been on our talk show several times, both by our invitation and their own request,’ Mr. Solomon wrote. ‘The opportunity is available to anyone and it will continue to be so long as I am there with the show.’

Minister McLaughlin said he wasn’t disputing Mr. Martin’s or Mr. Solomon’s right to work in the media, merely questioning their objectivity and motives.

‘Everybody claims to be objective, when in reality there are some media houses…to say they have an inherent bias is to make an understatement,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘What is said through both of these mediums (referring to Rooster radio and the Net News) needs to be judged on that basis.’

The two media companies did not share Mr. McLaughlin’s view.

Net News publisher Desmond Seales said his newspaper is only biased ‘in favour of the best interests of the people of the Cayman Islands,’ and that Minister McLaughlin had a ‘propensity to exaggerate and manipulate the truth.’

He also pointed out that Mr. Martin is the only former politician on the Net News staff.

Mr. Solomon said the minister’s claims represented a negative view of politics.

‘Mr. McLaughlin’s statement about inherent bias highlights a lack of understanding on his part,’ Mr. Solomon said. ‘He…seems to be suggesting that political aspirants and politicians, Mr. McLaughlin as a politician himself included, cannot be trusted.’

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