To the U.K.: Care to revise your media remarks?

What the Governor’s Office derides as an “unregulated media,” we celebrate as a free press.

Arguing that releasing documents related to the U.K.’s discredited Operation Tempura investigation would lead to the undermining of the Cayman Islands judiciary, the Governor’s Office said, “the allegations in this case are highly sensitive, will be disseminated widely within the Islands, and will come to the attention of court users.

“However, given the unregulated nature of the media, there is a substantial risk that the coverage of the allegations will not be properly balanced by the findings contained in the lengthy Report.”
In other words, Cayman’s press is not competent enough to report on the contents of the documents, and Cayman’s people are not intelligent enough to understand what they are reading.

Elsewhere in its submissions to the Information Commissioner’s Office — which ordered (for a second time) the disclosure of a complaint filed in 2010 by Tempura’s former legal adviser, and the governor’s subsequent evaluation of it — the Governor’s Office lamented “a preoccupation of the local media with an episode which concerned their own sector.”

The condescension is palpable. That “episode,” of course, refers to Tempura’s beginnings, when investigators made a covert entry into the offices of Cayman Net News, in search of evidence of improper communications between the (now-deceased) publisher Desmond Seales and local law enforcement.

It is our hope that those statements from the Governor’s Office are just legal barbs being flung by attorneys in frantic hopes of latching onto a substantial reason for continuing to withhold potentially embarrassing documents.

An ideal society would not need a Freedom of Information Law in order to compel the disclosure of information that is in the public interest because government officials would understand they are servants of the people, and government’s business is the people’s business.

The irony is that the (supposedly) better-regulated U.K. media have already published far more detailed information about this particular set of documents than the “unregulated” Cayman media have been able to — because of local concerns about breaching the archaic and amorphous “sub judice” and “scandalizing the judiciary” standards that Cayman officials still cling to despite the continual refining, or outright abandonment, of those restrictions in the U.K.

This publishing company, for one, spends thousands of dollars every month just to determine what is safe for us to print and what is not, by maintaining an open hotline between ourselves and our attorneys, who help us to stay within the guiderails of the perceived limitations on the local press.

While the Compass is always prepared to defend the raison d’être of an aggressive — and responsible — press, we were pleased to see common sense emanating from the responsive pen of Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers.

We’ll conclude with Mr. Liebaers’s apparently much-needed primer to the Governor’s Office on the nature of liberty and freedom:

“In a democratic society such as the Cayman Islands the Press has every right to express their views freely, including views critical of Government. Freedom of Expression is guaranteed in section 11 of the Constitution, and the FOI Law is itself explicitly intended “to reinforce and give further effect to certain fundamental principles underlying the system of constitutional democracy.”

“It is within this democratic context that the present reconsidered decision is being made, and it seems futile to wonder how this case would play out if the media were ‘regulated and controlled.’ No doubt this would reduce the disclosure of information by Government considerably, and increase the number of articles in the media favourable to Government, but that is not the constitutional and statutory framework within which this reconsideration is taking place, and such observations add nothing to the question at hand.”

Well put. Next question: What’s in the Tempura documents that U.K. and Cayman authorities are so desperate to conceal?

1 COMMENT

  1. The following section from this article says just about everything that needs to be said.

    ‘In other words, Cayman’s press is not competent enough to report on the contents of the documents, and Cayman’s people are not intelligent enough to understand what they are reading.’

  2. A very well-written and timely editorial.

    However, has anyone ever considered the possibility that this lengthy and expensive FOI battle is little more than a smokescreen to divert media attention from other, possibly more serious, issues?

    It just seems to me that a disproportionate amount of effort is being made to keep this all secret.

    The way the investigation was conducted is also curious. Charles Clifford and Justice Priya Levers had to face public tribunals when their conduct was brought into question. They were, in simple terms, granted their rights under both common law and ECHR to confront their accusers in public and respond to the allegations.

    But in this case exactly the opposite has happened. Despite this, and the fact that apparently defamatory material has been published by the press in the UK, none of the learned judges involved has said a word.

    I wonder why?

  3. As a born and BRED Caymanian, I really really don’t understand why people are getting so emotional about Tempura and mandatory disclosure of ALL information? Try and look at things from the government’s, state’s and Crown’s position. We must trust our government – this is why we elected them and in the case of the UK – why we have chosen to remain loyal subjects of the Crown for decades vs. going independent like Jamaica or Bahamas (but even then those countries still have Her Majesty as rightful head of state). There is such an overriding concepts in law and practice – called safeguarding national security and acting in the best interest of the public to keep certain matters private and confidential. It is ultimately up to our representatives to determine what info must be kept private or disclosed – full-stop. For example, if there are – and just citing an example, if there are covert intelligence agents working in the field (in Cayman or elsewhere) do you want the Crown and the government to compromise these people and put their lives in danger and to destroy their cases and ability to protect the public from the bad elements?? We must trust our government to do the right thing. This is our current system – not saying it is perfect but we live in an orderly society with government officials who are charged to act in our best interests even if we cannot understand or fully comprehend matters. Like children, we have a curiosity to peek behind the curtain to see what’s happening behind the scenes but you can ask your 5 year olds – when allowed to do so – 95% of the times there is no POT OF GOLD – NO TREASURE and all that anxiety to peek behind the curtain was just about exercising the power to see behind the curtain. It’s not so simple when it comes to safeguarding national security.

  4. Kameron, when did national security start to enter into this?
    It’s a dispute between an unelected representative of the UK government and an Information Commissioner who has been entrusted by the elected representatives of the people of the Cayman Islands to ensure that material is not unlawfully withheld.
    There is no national security implication in this – it’s a cover up by the FCO of an almighty fiasco that needs to be made public.
    I smell troll here.

  5. Kameron King, I agree with must of what you wrote, national security has no equal in classification, and if elected officials deem it fit to so classify a document there must be extraordinary justification to declassify it. Since the individual who classified the documents were charged with our national security, I feel nothing short of the courts should be able to change it, given that the courts would have to understand the nature of the contents in order to make a ruling. In the interest of national security, forget about it. If a governor can commute a murder sentence, he should be able to stand firm with a classification he deem to be in the national interest of Cayman or the UK. No winners no looser, our interest are mutual.

  6. John-F, please name one elected official involved in this decision and that’s a rhetorical question because I already know that the answer is none. The people who decided this are either based in London or temporary residents whose long-term career ambitions are to leave the islands with as little baggage as possible.

    Ultimately, this is about the people of the Cayman Islands deciding whether they want to be governed from the LA in George Town or from an anonymous office complex in London.

    Again I’m smelling troll here.

  7. Someone stating an individual opinion cannot be randomly dismissed as trolling.. Being a devil’s advocate for the sake of counter argument would not be my intent either. This subject in controversial enough to generate enough opposing views to point and counter point.. Now having an insider lead s stealth operation into a business office, now that is troll.

    Yes I respect the overwatch leadership of the UK..

    Consider a broad example. If you needed to commission a team to plan a project to the moon, which team would you commission?.

Comments are closed.