Today’s Editorial June 08: Breaking a culture of secrecy

Despite the advances in transparency in government made through the passage and implementation of the Freedom of Information Law, there remains a strong culture of secrecy in the Cayman Islands, especially in civil service and government-owned entities.

The media is constantly thwarted by government personnel, including some who are purported to be public relations professionals, in efforts to get even relatively simple questions answered. So pervasive is this culture of secrecy, it seems as if civil servants and other government workers are taught ‘the five Ds’ of media relations upon taking their jobs: deny, dodge, defer, devalue and disdain.

Sadly, the ultimate result of using the five Ds is that the user creates a sixth D, namely a public relations ‘disaster’ that becomes greater than the problem itself.

Just last week we had one government entity media liaison say she had absolutely no knowledge of an incident we were asking about, but in the next breath she assured us it didn’t happen.

Another government entity media liaison chastised us – suggesting it must have been a slow news week – for looking into an incident that could have put hundreds of lives in danger.

Yet another government entity head refused to answer a simple question about whether his department had completed a specific job.

It borders on the ridiculous.

The ultimate result of using the five Ds was on display in a couple of our front page stories last week.

First, the revelation that the Tourism Ministry, improperly at best and illegally at worst, delayed an FOI request about a junket to Washington, DC last year that cost nearly $200,000. Although the explanation for the cost of the trip turned out to be somewhat reasonable, the three-month delay, and the release of those documents on Election Day, 20 May, was not.

And the public relations debacle that has bloomed over Horizons magazine in the last several weeks makes a great case study in how not to deal with the media and the public.

All of these issues have left us with the distinct impression that either: a) whoever is making these decisions is woefully inept and will be in big trouble when international media types come calling for information about things like the finance or tourism industries; or b) they simply don’t care about the local media.

Neither one of those conclusions is hopeful. We can only hope that with time, this culture of secrecy will pass and the government and its entities can get better grades than Ds at Media Relations 101.