We’re not talking about crashing waves of new technology, or greater trends toward globalization and digitization. No, the ponderous behemoth to which we refer is, in fact, Cayman’s government.
More so than in many Western democracies, Cayman’s government already has helped itself to multiple slices of media pie, in several varieties — spoken, visual and written. This did not occur overnight, but rather is the result of a process of evolution and entrenchment.
A couple of government’s media players have been operating for decades. The Cayman Islands Gazette, the official government “newspaper,” was first published in 1975. The government’s Radio Cayman went on the air in 1976.
Predating them all was Olive Miller, who in January 1971 became Cayman’s first government information officer, a position that was the precursor to today’s Government Information Service.
The government bided its time before entering the world of television, but in 2012 it launched CIGTV, broadcasting meetings of the Legislative Assembly and government press conferences, in addition to other public events.
We mention the above in order to illustrate our government’s long-running tradition of not only “making” news — but packaging and presenting the news as well.
Yet, despite the existing array of public sector media properties, the government’s telecommunication regulator seems concerned about a potential dearth of “local content” on Cayman television providers. In particular, the Information and Communications Technology Authority is contemplating the collection of fees from Cayman’s cable companies to help pay for the production of “public service broadcasting” — in case the private sector cannot sustain a commercially viable local television station.
Since the idea for the “universal service fund” hasn’t yet advanced from speculation to proposal, we’ll reserve comment for now, aside from offering the basic tenet that, whenever possible, “the free market should decide.”
We find the regulators’ focus on “local content” — solely as it relates to television — to be antiquated and ill-advised in the Internet Age, where consumers have nearly infinite choice when it comes to forms of media consumption.
At this point, however, we are primarily interested in a statement made last December by ICTA Managing Director Alee Fa’amoe, who said that CIGTV would not qualify as “public service broadcasting” and that cable providers would not be able to meet their licensing obligations for local content by simply carrying CIGTV.
Mr. Fa’amoe said, “CIGTV cannot be the only choice and would not meet the intention of public service broadcasting — it is the mouthpiece of the government in power on the day.”
In other words, CIGTV is a tool for political propaganda — something that former Premier McKeeva Bush vehemently denied in a letter to the Compass in October 2012, writing, “while the channel will certainly provide a means by which the government can communicate directly with the public, the program content will be much wider than that. Programming will include informational, educational, cultural, sports and religious shows.”
Nearly three years and two Cabinets later, we are still waiting for CIGTV to live up to its promised potential. If the government’s TV station cannot meet the government regulators’ definition of “public service broadcasting,” then why does it exist? Why are we paying for it? And why is government considering levying an entirely new tax to pay for more public programming?
Rather than creating a new fee to prop up a new system to create local content (that Cayman consumers will have determined they don’t want), government should consider opening up CIGTV to all residents. Turn the public channel into a public access channel, where anyone can sign up to air their own show on their own time slot. That seems, to us, to be about as “local” as “local content” can get.
Better yet, public officials could withdraw from the TV industry entirely. There may be no business like show business, but it certainly shouldn’t be the business of government.