At the Compass: Ears wide open, hands not out

Thanks, but no thanks.

In short, that is the Caymanian Compass’s policy regarding gifts, free flights, concert tickets, invitations to gala events, or even allowing politicians to pick up the tab for lunches or dinners with our reporters.

Stated another way, we pay our own way.

Readers of this newspaper have every right to expect that the articles they read each day are not biased by undue influence from outside sources, be they government officials, advocates of a particular cause or even advertisers. Simply put, the news pages of this newspaper are not for sale.

In recent days, the late Desmond Seales, publisher of the now-defunct Cayman Net News, has again been making news because of a court decision relating to his not making legally mandated pension contributions. Mr. Seales’s lasting legacy, we believe, was the lowering of journalistic standards in this country.

In effect, Mr. Seales practiced “pay to play” journalism. One stunning example: Alongside his newspaper, Mr. Seales formed a public relations firm called MCM Consultants, which he used as a vehicle to strong-arm companies and government officials into signing retainer contracts in exchange for positive, even glowing, coverage in his newspaper.

One such entity he signed up was the Cayman Turtle Farm (known at the time as Boatswain’s Beach). Shortly thereafter, the then-director of the Turtle Farm, Joey Ebanks, was named Net News’s “Person of the Year for 2008.”

This is the same Joey Ebanks who ran up tabs of tens of thousands of dollars at the Turtle Farm’s expense and who was sentenced Tuesday to serve two years and three months in prison for various subsequent offenses.

Most readers probably didn’t notice the slight change to the nameplate on the front page of the Compass after David and Vicki Legge purchased Cayman Free Press in June 2013. It now reads, “The islands’ most-trusted news source.”

To add substance to those lofty words, the Legges, upon taking ownership of the company, immediately divested themselves of all potential conflicts of interest, including severing all of their communication consulting contracts with longtime private clients, including Health City Cayman Islands, former police commissioner Stuart Kernohan (pro bono), one of the “Big Four” accounting firms, and many more.

A maxim in journalism is, “The appearance of a conflict of interest is a conflict of interest,” and this applies to newspaper owners as well as to public officials.

That being said, while you can’t buy, bribe, influence or cajole your way into the news pages of the Compass, access to our pages is actually quite straightforward.

If you believe you or your company have a legitimate story for publication, please understand that you do not need to hire an “intermediary,” such as a public relations company, to represent you. Our editors and reporters are readily available to communicate with you directly. You don’t need a professionally prepared press release, and you certainly don’t need to “know someone” to get coverage in the Compass.

You simply need to call our newsroom at 815-0095 or send an email to [email protected] We can’t promise in advance that your story will appear in our pages, but we can promise you will get a fair hearing.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. If a history of Net News was ever to be written MCM Consultants would definitely need to be featured in its own right. You could probably devote a whole chapter just on the way staff were treated and the subsequent high turnover. In fact ex-pats regularly joined MCM only to discover that they were actually working for Net News – it was a convenient ploy to keep staffing levels under the Business Staffing Plan limit.

    During my time at Net News Desmond was a great advocate of the ‘Advertorial’ and regularly sold (or tried to sell) editorial space as advertising. He would then send a journalist, on the promise of a CI150 bonus, to prepare the story but the client was given overall control of the content. It was a recipe for disaster because after writing maybe 1000 words the hard-pressed staffer would then have to deal with idiotic re-writes until the business owner was happy. I got caught up in it once and refused to ever do it again.

    As Net News started to fail MCM was touted as the ‘magic bullet’ that would revive the company fortunes. Shortly before I left we had a lengthy presentation featuring a 10-year-old MCM TV ad that had been rejected by CAL and promises of a huge CIG contract that never materialised. It was just a sideshow.

    And when it comes to criticising people selected to be Net News Person of the Year just remember that the two most powerful public figures in the Cayman Islands right now have also enjoyed that title in past.

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