Members of the public posting comments on the caycompass.com website have for the most part supported Caymanian Compass and publisher Brian Uzzell for the decision not to apologise for a news article and editorial it published last week.
Speaker of the House Mary Lawrence called for Compass reporter Brent Fuller to apologise for the article he authored about a six-member Legislative Assembly sub-committee that was going to review Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law in private. She also called for him to apologise for a Compass editorial – even though the editorial had no listed authors – that hypothetically examined the possible effect of the WikiLeaks situation on the review of the FOI Law. North Side MLA Ezzard Miller then took the situation further, bringing a motion to cancel Mr. Fuller’s press privilege immediately and to recommend the criminal prosecution of Mr. Fuller and the Compass for supposed violations to the Legislative Assembly (Immunities Powers and Privileges) Law.
Most of the public commenting on the Compass website expressed outrage at the actions of legislators and support for the newspaper and its publisher.
“A newspaper is all about expressing opinions and freedom of speech,” said a poster named soufendsally. “How dare the Legislative Assembly try a muzzle the press.”
Poster John Evans took exception to Mrs. Lawrence’s comment that reporting on the Legislative Assembly was a “privilege, not a right” that could be revoked by her office.
“I have worked in a number of Eastern European and Third World countries where the government controlled the media and stifled a free press, so that phrase sounds disturbingly familiar,” he said. “Excluding the press from any public assembly is a dangerous road to go down and an act which tends to be the first step in a wider suspension of democracy.
“It’s not the actions of the Compass that need to be examined, but those of elected representatives, who seem to be indicating their willingness to engage in activities that they would prefer the electorate to remain ignorant of… All of which reflects a decidedly questionable attitude within the LA towards human rights and transparency in government, illustrating the validity of the decision to publish the original story and editorial.”
Poster Richard N. Parson said he would have expected better of people who at least at one time, valued freedom.
“It is alarming when the press is threatened like this because this is the way Communist countries rule.”
A poster called “bringiton” urged the Compass to stand its ground.“It’s time for politicians to quit being such bullies when they don’t like the truth.”
A poster called “youngblud” said it was “time we got some irrevocable and irrefutable freedom of the press” in this country”.
“Reporting on the actions of government is not a ‘privilege’ – it’s a necessity.”
Poster Tiger wondered if Mr. Fuller was being attacked because he was an expatriate.
“If he was Caymanian would you have pursued him so vigorously,” a poster Caymanian called ‘Tiger’ asked. “While I am a strong advocate that we should put our people first, this matter is not just about Brent Fuller it is about freedom of speech and the press period. It’s about the Freedom of the people of the Cayman Islands.
“Caymanians and ex-pats we must stand up to this. Mr. Ezzard Miller and the Speaker Mary Lawrence should be ashamed of themselves and I am very surprised at this behaviour.”
A poster called Old Hand noticed the preponderance of comment viewers who were agreeing with the postings opposed to those disagreeing.
“I hope someone on the staff of the Speaker is taking note of this, and making sure she, and all MLAs individually, have copies of the comments. Just when we hoped Cayman’s politicians might at last be coming of age, too. Very sad.”
A poster called ‘JTB’ said the response of the House seems grossly disproportionate to the circumstances of the case.
“I would have hoped that any legislator would know that freedom of speech is the cornerstone of democracy, and a hysterical response of this kind will serve only to make them look ridiculous.”
JTB later commented: “A free press is a fundamental and necessary part of a functioning democracy, without which the legislature and executive cannot be held to account. Press scrutiny is not optional for those who aspire to govern – it is one of the things you accept as being a nonnegotiable part of the package. If the MLA’s do not like having their actions scrutinised then they should step down.”
Poster 1010 suggested it was the lawmakers who should be prosecuted for interfering with free speech.
“Maybe the lawmakers should focus less on impeding free press and more on solving [the] absurd spike in crime that is affecting your island.”
A poster called “firery” said the issue was now with the Attorney General to see if he will actually prosecute Mr. Fuller and the Compass.
“If he does this, he will have put Cayman on a direct collision path with the United Kingdom and the rest of a very powerful democratic world that this same Cayman Islands needs for its survival.”
One person thought the Compass had erred.
Poster ‘Bodden’ said if the article was indeed inaccurate, the punishment of a $800 fine and/or 12 months in prison represented a “slap on the wrist”.
“Inaccurate reporting, especially against the seat of government, is a very serious matter. I mean people have the freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but how far low can you go in demeaning someone else’s character and integrity.”
Another poster disagreed with Mr. Uzzell’s decision not to send Compass reporters to Legislative Assembly any longer.
“Continue providing the critical service you have been providing… the media is often all that stands between the people the powers that be. “Keep these legislators, keep the issues of this country in the spotlight. This country needs an open press more than anything right now.”