New British Overseas Territories Minister James Duddridge stated recently that an apology had been offered by the Cayman Islands governor “for any offense” her statements that appeared to question the standards and professionalism of local journalists might have caused.
The statements came in Governor Helen Kilpatrick’s response to an order issued by the Cayman Islands Information Commissioner’s Office indicating that certain records related to the Operation Tempura police corruption investigation in Cayman should be released. The governor’s office responded that those records should not be released, partly because those who might report them are not “regulated or controlled” with regard to the publication of such matters.
The governor’s submission to Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers, in arguing against disclosure of the records, noted that the dangers of releasing a complaint that it believed would falsely undermine the Cayman Islands judiciary were greater because “the dissemination of allegations through the media in the Cayman Islands is wholly unregulated and uncontrolled.
“There is substantial risk that the coverage of the allegations will not be properly balanced by the findings contained in the lengthy report [which evaluated the complaint],” the governor’s office submission stated.
The statements from the governor’s office raised questions by British MP Liz Truss’s office, which were forwarded to Mr. Duddridge, who maintains oversight responsibility for the British territories in the Caribbean.
Mr. Duddridge responded to Ms. Truss, stating: “In the submission to the information commissioner, there is a reference to the unregulated nature of the media in the Cayman Islands. This was intended as a factual statement referring to there not being a press regulator in the Cayman Islands.
“It was not the intention of the governor to disparage the role of a free press in Cayman, nor meant as a reflection on the integrity, standards and professionalism of Cayman Island[s] journalists. The governor apologises for any offense caused if her submission did not make this clear.”
Governor Kilpatrick’s chief of staff made no mention of any such position or apology when the Cayman Compass asked for clarification regarding what was meant by the unregulated nature of the local media.
Until Sept. 8, 2014, the U.K. had a Press Complaints Commission – a public/private sector board that received and adjudicated complaints regarding the press. That group has morphed into the Independent Press Standards Organisation that monitors the standards set out in the Editors’ Code of Practice and provides support and redress for individuals seeking to complain about breaches of the code.
The chairman of the new press standards organization is former U.K. High Court justice Sir Alan Moses, who presided over many of the court hearings in Cayman relative to the Operation Tempura fallout and who mediated the court case over the Tempura records request between the information commissioner’s office and the Cayman governor’s office.
With regard to the governor’s office commentary in the Tempura records request case, Acting Information Commissioner Liebaers has stated that previous rulings on open records requests from the information commissioner’s office dealt with the subjects the governor raised.
“Questions of access to a record held by government cannot be concerned with how that record might be used in the future,” Mr. Liebaers noted, quoting from a previous open records case that was appealed before the information commissioner’s office. “This would be a shortcut to censorship and would contradict the fundamental objectives of the Freedom of Information Law. Either a record is exempt under the law or it is not, but in either case, any presumed future use of a record can have no bearing on its disclosure.”
Mr. Liebaers went on to state that in a democratic society such as the Cayman Islands, the press “has every right to express their views freely,” including views that might be critical of government.
“It seems futile to wonder how this case would play out if the media were ‘regulated and controlled,’” the information commissioner continued. “No doubt, this would reduce the disclosure of information by government considerably and increase the number of articles in the media favorable to government, but that is not the constitutional and statutory framework within which this reconsideration is taking place.”