Premier McKeeva Bush fielded questions about how “free” the newly launched government television channel is in the Legislative Assembly last week.
CIGTV 20 launched on WestStar on Monday, 5 November. The first live broadcast of proceedings from the Legislative Assembly aired on the channel Wednesday. *
In response to a query from East End independent MLA Arden McLean, Mr. Bush said the new TV service was free, but Mr. McLean pointed out that people who wanted to watch it had to be subscribers to the paid-for WestStar TV cable service.
According to WestStar’s website, its most basic package, which includes CIGTV 20, costs $39 a month.
Mr. McLean asked if CIGTV 20 could be picked up for free by people who attached an antennae to their TV, saying that many people in Cayman cannot afford to pay subscription fees for cable television service.
“I’m not going to sit here and try to talk technicalities because I’m not a technician,” Mr. Bush responded. “It is free, that’s what I can tell you, it is free,” said Mr. Bush, spelling out the word ‘free’ to drive home his point.
A few minutes later, after Mr. McLean had apparently received a message from a member of staff at CITN who confirmed that CIGTV was only available on the paid-for cable service channel, the member for East End said: “You can only get this channel through subscription. I would ask that the premier look into that. It’s the people who are paying for this and they should have the privilege of watching their members of parliament speak for free and it’s not for free, They’re paying for it. It’s not F-R-E-E.”
The purchase and installation of equipment for the station, paid for out of public coffers, cost $227,345. Another $186,000 was budgeted for three staff positions for the channel.
Mr. Bush’s press secretary Charles Glidden, who spearheaded the launch of the new channel, confirmed to the Caymanian Compass that the channel was only available as part of a subscription package with WestStar. “The CIGTV channel is included in all packages at no additional cost to the customer,” he said.
In a statement to the House about the new service, the premier said the people of Cayman would now be able to see their political representatives at work and see their demeanour.
He said the channel would also deliver updates on government developments, interviews with ministers, features on departmental initiatives, a community bulletin board and weather forecasts, as well as broadcast government press conferences in their entirety.
The channel will also eventually broadcast religious, arts and culture programmes, coverage of legislative committees, meetings of government boards that are open to the public, children’s programmes and special events such as Heroes Day and the Agricultural Show.
Mr. Bush said Mr. Glidden and CITN Cayman 27’s news anchor and senior producer Donna Bush would be working at the channel, with the Government Information Service doing production.
Mr. Glidden said Ms Bush had been contracted as a consultant to advise on programme development and to implement programming, as well as being on-air talent.
Live coverage of the current Legislative Assembly meeting has been aired on CIGTV 20 since Tuesday, 6 November. Technical hitches prevented the previous day’s legislative proceedings from being aired, but the channel broadcast a prepared statement from Premier Bush on Wednesday, 7 November. *
Mr. McLean complained that legislators were not consulted about the new arrangements to televise their speeches, debates and exchanges live in the house prior to the launch of CIGTV 20 and said members should have had an “opportunity for input”.
“[T]he only thing I saw was an email saying that those who were speaking will be on [television] and those who were next to them should be aware that they might be on TV as well. That’s all I know about this system and, as a member of parliament, it is somewhat disrespectful to come here and get an email from a press secretary saying we are going to televise proceedings,” said Mr. McLean.
Mr. Bush replied that he had spoken about plans to televise proceedings in the House several times and there had also been a public announcement about the channel launch.