Opposition Leader wonders if anyone’s listening to LA
Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin said Friday that a “deplorable state of affairs” was preventing members of the Cayman Islands news media from properly covering meetings of the Legislative Assembly.
“I would like to note, with continued and growing concern, the absence of any member of the media from these chambers,” Mr. McLaughlin told the house. “I noted that the television station was here when the Premier delivered this strategic policy statement. No other member of the media was here [Thursday], and there is no one here [Friday] covering the contribution of other members.
“I do not believe that this house should remain stuck in the middle ages because we are preventing people, preventing the media, from covering the proceedings of this house on the basis that digital equipment will not be allowed in this house,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “This is an affront to democracy and we must, in my respectful view, address it as a matter of urgency. Nothing, it seems, is being done.”
Mr. McLaughlin was referring to recently implemented rules that forbid members of the press or anyone else sitting in the public gallery on the second floor of the LA chambers during meetings from carrying cell phones, BlackBerrys, iPhones, iPads or any other electronic communications device. Individuals must now check in those devices with police officers stationed at the front of the building.
Laptop computers are also not allowed for LA attendees in the upstairs gallery. The prohibition is not in effect for members of the assembly or civil servants who are allowed onto the main floor. Responding to Mr. McLaughlin’s comments Friday, Speaker Lawrence quoted from the Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly, Sections 84(1) and 84 (2). “Lest we give the public the wrong impression,” Mrs. Lawrence said. The orders read as follows: “The presiding officer [the Speaker] may grant a general permission to the representatives of any journal or newspaper to attend the meetings of the house and such permission may be granted under such rules as he may make from time to time for that purpose. If such rules are contravened, such permission may be revoked. And (2); any representatives of any journal or newspaper, when attending the meetings of the house, shall sit in the area allotted for the press and shall, under no conditions engage, any member in conversation during the sittings.” Mrs. Lawrence then remarked that Mr. McLaughlin was “well aware” the press was in attendance Friday.
“They have chosen to sit in the comfortable padded seats in the lounge of the Legislative Assembly; that is their choice,” the Speaker said. “Perhaps [Mr. McLaughlin] would like to follow his scriptural injunctions and invite ‘friends, come up higher’.” The Caymanian Compass – which is boycotting attending proceedings of the LA because of the electronics communications rules – checked with other reporters who cover the Legislative Assembly. At times during the day Friday, there were three reporters in attendance. One, from the government-owned radio station, was sitting in the stairwell out of legislators’ view. Two more, from CITN 27 and Cayman News Service, were sitting in the downstairs lounge.
A representative of the news service said reporters are tending – when they do show up for meetings – to sit downstairs by the lockers; not for the “comfortable chairs”, but to remain close to their cell phones and other communications devices. Reporters said it is sometimes hard to hear the LA proceedings from the lounge area, and in any case, none attended the LA for the entire meeting Friday.
“This is a deplorable state of affairs,” Mr. McLaughlin said, adding he had spoken to Mrs. Lawrence and Premier McKeeva Bush on the issue privately before making a formal public statement. “It impacts on the business of this house and it impacts on the country.” A group of reporters, including a representative from the Compass, recently wrote to Speaker Lawrence about the situation, asking to meet with her on the issue.
In addition, Compass Editor Tammie C. Chisholm, wrote to Speaker Lawrence on 16 November informing the Speaker that the Compass would no longer send journalists to cover the LA until the previous decision regarding cell phone usage is lifted. “While our journalists are covering the assembly, they are required to let the editor know the progress of the meeting; whether we need to extend our daily deadline for pressing news coming out of the meeting,” Mrs. Chisholm wrote on 16 November. “Constant possession of a cell phone is also necessary when the assembly runs late into the night. Journalists need to let the editor as well as their families know why they are being detained.”
Mrs. Chisholm also noted sometimes family emergencies or breaking news coverage will require those reporters to be called away from LA meetings and, if they don’t have access to communications devices, they are effectively unreachable.
“It is our hope that the decision barring cell phones will be lifted,” Mrs. Chisholm wrote. “Until that decision is taken, Cayman Free Press [the company which owns the Compass] will not have any journalists present at LA sittings.”