Today’s Editorial for May 15: Passing the buck

It may seem minor when compared to the natural disasters and economic crises now facing the world, and the host of social and economic issues Caymanians are dealing with at home.

But we feel the recent government proposal to change the makeup of the Cinematographic Authority, the board that has the power to censor films in the Cayman Islands, deserves some further consideration.

The authority consists of five members including the governor, three elected Legislative Assembly members and an appointee of the governor.

The government wants to allow Cabinet to make all five appointments to a new Cinematograph Board, with the caveat that at least one of the members must be a minister of religion.

On the surface, it would appear that government is merely choosing to replace a board made up of a majority of politicians with one that is appointed by politicians, removing the appearance of elected officials interfering with the censorship process.

However, we wonder what will occur when appointees who owe their position to the elected officials are required to make controversial decisions about banning films or editing their content so that it is suitable for viewing in a public theatre.

Those board members are only accountable to the Cabinet members who appointed them, not the public. They are essentially free to make decisions to censor films that a politician would not dare to make because of public backlash.

Would The Golden Compass have been shown in Cayman last December if a board full of political appointees, one of whom was a member of the ministers’ association which had previously denounced the film, was responsible for making that decision?

In the final report issued by the Commission of Enquiry earlier this year, Sir Richard Tucker noted some of the problems inherent with politically-appointed boards.

We quote from the report: ‘If…the non-executive directors (of appointed boards) feel that they must ‘support the minister’ who appointed them, with the result that they are reluctant to bring their own skills, expertise and judgment to bear upon the matters at hand, the board of directors of the statutory authorities and government companies will serve little useful purpose.’

Sir Richard’s comments were made in relation to organisations like Cayman Airways’ Board of Directors or the Boatswain’s Beach Board of Directors. But we think they could just as easily apply to members of this new Cinematograph Board.

Political appointees, attending a closed-door meeting, could easily act upon the marching orders of the politicians who appointed them and ban whatever films it is considered politically expedient to ban at the time.

The elected officials themselves can then wash their hands of the decision, and state that it was up to the board members who they appointed.

The Caymanian Compass believes that government should reserve some right to censor and/or rate films considered seditious, obscene or blasphemous, particularly if those films are to be shown at times when children might be attending the movie theatre.

But we do not support politicians passing the buck on issues such as public censorship, because censorship becomes an all-too-easy choice for those who are not directly accountable to the public.

On a side note, the editorial in the Tuesday, 13 May edition of the Caymanian Compass about everyone being thrifty spenders pointing out that we could all cut our costs by spending less on coffee, cigarettes, snacks and lunches wasn’t a suggestion by Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden. That was our suggestion.