Media matters: Limited role for government

The Cayman Islands government ought to get out of the media business — and keep out of the media’s business.

The conversation on this topic, which certainly is of self-interest to the Compass, arises in the context of a pair of recent stories, one on government’s media apparatus and another on liquor advertisements. Both serve to reinforce two general principles we advocate in the interest of taxpayers, consumers and companies.

These are:

The public sector should not insert itself into direct competition with the private sector, unless it is to meet a legitimate unfulfilled public need.

The government should refrain from putting restrictions on the private sector, apart from ensuring public health and safety.

Put another way, government should be supporting the private sector (which funds its operations), not competing with it.

Case in point: A discussion last week in the Legislative Assembly highlights the government’s ineffectual efforts to participate in the media marketplace.

Under questioning by elected members, Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose — whose office is responsible for government public communications including Government Information Services, CIG-TV and Radio Cayman — claimed that the government’s contract with cable provider WestStar limits CIG-TV’s chances of success.

Mr. Rose said one reason for the dearth of content on CIG-TV is that “the agreement with WestStar prevents us from providing any content that would take sponsorships away from WestStar.”
What? Who in government signed that agreement?

Then, Premier Alden McLaughlin said Radio Cayman doesn’t broadcast Legislative Assembly proceedings during the days and evenings because uninterested listeners would turn the dial and cause the station to lose advertising revenue.

It’s hard to argue with that.

Mr. McLaughlin said, “Radio Cayman has lots of competition for those commercial dollars.”
Exactly. And the competition is coming from the private sector. The government needs to decide if it’s going to be running a radio and TV station as a public information service or as a money-making endeavor at the expense of legitimate private sector businesses.

Currently it’s failing by either measure, and the government expects to expend some $2.15 million in public funds next year for its ill-performing communications apparatus, including GIS, CIG-TV and Radio Cayman.

Our recommendation is to shut down GIS, sell Radio Cayman, and enhance and improve the offerings of CIG-TV.

In another media matter, the government then donned its hat as regulator of its rivals in the private sector, considering whether alcohol advertising should be allowed in local publications.

While this has been a pet issue of North Side MLA Ezzard Miller for some time, the current discussion apparently stems from a National Drug Council report on youth drinking trends. While we place no stock in the Drug Council or its reports, we don’t diminish the undesirability of underage substance use, or the probability of its prevalence in Cayman.

That said, however, alcohol is a legal product and, it follows, so should be its sale via advertising. Underage drinking is a matter for parents, health officials and law enforcement, not the morality or media police.

Currently, liquor advertising is allowed in print publications, on signs and online, but is prohibited in broadcast media, such as TV and radio.

In the age of satellites (which beam down to Cayman hundreds of broadcast channels, many of them containing liquor advertising), cellphones, cable, and the Internet, the very idea of debating a local ban on printed liquor ads is beyond parochial.

We would remind the good member from North Side that dozens of print publications — local and international — containing alcohol advertisements are readily available at every newsstand on the island. Instead of extending the ban to print, lawmakers should throw out the anachronism altogether.

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1 COMMENT

  1. It’s a good editorial, and it’s nice to see the Compass expressing dissatisfaction with Cayman’s big government policy. The paper’s intervention is decades too late to be effective, but better late than never. I myself have been banging away on the topic for the best part of thirty years first at the Chamber of Commerce (as Manager, and later as a Councillor), then in my newspaper column, and latterly on my personal blog (Barlow’s Cayman).
    Just last week I posted a piece called Privatisation. Earlier items were Zero-based budgeting, A Day late and a Dollar short, and Our bloated public sector, all in August and September 2012 and plenty of others from time to time as the spirit moved me. The Compass editorial singled out GIS and the state radio and TV stations; my latest target was the Turtle Farm. Earlier blogs of mine have called for both GIS and Radio Cayman to be wound up immediately. Those are no-brainers. They serve only the politics of vanity, and I am right behind the Compass on its present stance. I only wish the previous Compass owners had supported me, when I took the same stance. Together, we might have gotten somewhere.
    Today our government is faced with a stark choice between 1) dismantling its bloated Civil Service empire, and 2) imposing new taxes, possibly including a tax on incomes and profits. So far, there’s no sign that it will choose option 1). Yet, unless it does, our future looks bleak. Whether privatisation starts with the Turtle Farm or the state propaganda network doesn’t matter. Whichever’s easiest.

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