The recent debate surrounding comments from Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush regarding perceived blackmail from a local newspaper editor has again raised proposals for a ‘real’ Cayman Islands Press Association.
It is envisioned that this association would be responsible for ensuring proper ethics and standards are maintained among the various press related organisations including print, TV and the electronic media.
For the record, Cayman Free Press and the Caymanian Compass already has an extensive ethics policy to which our journalists adhere.
The idea of a press association is not an original one, but something that has been the subject of discussion for a couple of decades at least. The problem is that it would have to be independent of government in order to be effective.
The suggestion of licensing is the first problem. There is only one TV station and one news radio station. Government control of these organisations is direct in the case of the Radio Cayman and indirect for Cayman 27 via the ICTA licence, which requires a certain amount of local programming.
Secondly, a number of media houses in Cayman also have sister companies that offer public relations and media relations services. The Cayman Net News publisher owns MCM Consultants. The owner-operator of a local news website also writes press releases for entities like the OCC, elected LA members and private companies. Having entities that write the press releases and then report on them under the same roof, indeed even by the same individuals, may not be illegal, but it would be considered highly unethical in the view of most professional journalists to say the least.
Financial strength is a necessary ingredient to developing independent and professionally run press entities.
The publisher of this newspaper, who was originally employed in a PR company, was requested to produce a feasibility study of the original Caymanian Weekly, the predecessor of the Caymanian Compass, and immediately ceased PR activities when he was asked to join the newspaper organisation thereafter. Even then, some 30 odd years ago and with only 10,000 residents, the integrity and independence of the newspaper was seen as paramount.
Then there are the principles and conditions that the association will be obliged to uphold. Do they decide what certification or experience is required by journalists in Cayman? Minimum wages such as is done by the Cayman Contractors Association? Is the Government Information Services allowed to become a member? What constitutes a ‘conflict of interest’? How are standards to be improved without fear of manipulation? This list is too long.
Press freedom is extremely valuable and a very necessary ingredient in an emerging democratic country. Let’s not lose sight of that.