EDITORIAL – BBC program: A ‘trillion’ thumbs down

The recent BBC documentary on Cayman, “Britain’s Trillion Pound Island,” is a documentary insult and a journalistic mess.

The hour-long film is a mélange of beaches, bikinis and banks. Promising a deep-dive exploration into “one of the most secretive places on earth,” British journalist Jacques Peretti proceeds to take a waist-deep wade into the shallowest stereotypes of the Cayman Islands.

Armed with a camera, crew and little pre-existing knowledge apart from the phrase “tax haven,” Mr. Peretti bumbles through the country, bouncing back and forth between the idea that Cayman is bad, or else it is benign, before finally arriving at the un-startling conclusion that “Cayman is a tax haven created by Britain … But it’s much more than that.”

The documentary does have its strong points.

First, the film must be admired for its unabashed blending of fact with fiction.

No, the average four-bedroom residence in Cayman does not cost “nearly 2 million pounds.” No, you cannot be arrested in Cayman for asking questions about financial entities. No, Cayman is not “James Bond island” — that title belongs to Jamaica, where Ian Fleming wrote his famous thrillers. No, even though Mario Rankin drives a Ferrari, he is not one of the “richest men on the island.” … We could go on and on.

Second, the production value of the film is exceptional. Grand Cayman is portrayed, visually, as a beautiful place with plenty of sand, sun and surf.

Third, the list of interviewees who appear in the documentary were aptly chosen by filmmakers to suit their purposes. Whether they were looking for a flamboyant millionaire, a high-end realtor, a financially oppressed government pensioner or a taxi driver brimming with homespun wisdom — filmmakers successfully identified individual personalities to fill those roles.

In brief, the documentary is a cheap product of sensational and shoddy journalism, richened with a colorful cast of characters and aesthetically appealing cinematography.

We do not believe it was Mr. Peretti’s intention to “make Cayman look bad” — in fact, it seems like he gave key players here every opportunity to “make Cayman look good.” The failure to do so, in that regard, falls on local shoulders.

While it is fairly certain that “selective editing” may have taken place, the performances by Premier Alden McLaughlin and Governor Helen Kilpatrick, on what should have been the simplest of topics — “Justify Cayman’s existence” — were, in a word, underwhelming.

We can forgive others who appeared in the film for saying or doing things they may now regret. After all, most of them don’t make a living talking in front of cameras. Who knows what kind of cajolery the personable Mr. Peretti employed in order to make his subjects feel at ease, and who knows what footage was left on the cutting room floor?

To a lesser extent, that applies to Governor Kilpatrick, as well. After all, she is a British civil servant appointed to oversee Cayman, not cheerlead for us.

However, Premier McLaughlin’s role is different. Our premier is elected to represent the people of Cayman, and has been selected by his colleagues to represent the country as a whole. As opposed to his admirable showing on BBC’s HARDtalk in 2014, the premier appeared in this interview to be ill at ease, and apparently ill-prepared for questioning.

Before the interview, the premier’s staff should have provided him with a list of talking points and should have vetted Mr. Peretti extensively before the Q&A — preferably viewing the questions beforehand so that the premier would have his answers at the ready. He should never expose himself to “gotcha journalism,” and his staff should have insisted on securing, in writing, approval of the “final cut” of the interview. (Notorious Mexican drug kingpin “El Chapo” negotiated nothing less in his recent interview with Sean Penn of Rolling Stone magazine.)

The first question Mr. Peretti asked Premier McLaughlin was a good one — “Why have you let me in to interview you?”

Since our premier did not have a satisfactory answer to that question, it should have been the last one.


  1. Dear me where do I start?

    You missed the ridiculous idea that the trillion dollars supposedly in local banks would be enough to give every resident 27 million. As if money in the banks could just be grabbed and handed out like candy.

    And while everyone knows that food is very expensive here, it certainly isn’t necessary to spend some $10 CI on a packet of imported fish fingers.
    Bananas cost about $1 CI a pound. Far cheaper than the UK. But that wouldn’t have had the required shock value, would it?

    Nor does every expat drive around in a Ferrari. I am perfectly happy with my 9 year old Toyota thank you.

    Home prices in Grand Cayman are way less than London.
    And you should check out the prices in Hong Kong.$5m. USD for a new 1,400 sq.ft. condo.

    As our Premier correctly said, “What country in the world doesn’t let banks foreclose when borrowers don’t pay?”

    And as for being easy to open a bank account. Please. It’s like pulling teeth to get a bank account open. Even if you’re 100% squeaky clean. If Mr. Peretti had actually tried to open one, rather than just waving around a form he supposedly was given by a bank he’d have found that out.

  2. I think before assessing the report you have to be aware of a few things. The first is that the BBC is an almost completely unaccountable organisation funded by over GBP3.7billion of UK licence payers money. They regularly screen investigations and so-called hard news stories in the UK that are complete rubbish because there is nothing anyone can do about it. The second is that this was a blatant jolly. If you look at the crew credits at the end it is clear that everyone and their mother jumped on the bandwagon to get an all expenses paid trip to sunny Caribbean. If this had been an independent TV operation they’d have only sent three or four people to handle it. Once you get your head round those facts what do you expect? In depth, serious reporting or just a bunch of people spending other people’s money and enjoying themselves?

    The big failing of this was that it had obviously been sold to leftwing-biased bosses at the BBC as an investigation into tax havens, which is a very hot topic in the UK now, and not as a wider investigation into how these islands operate.

    What disappointed me most about the report is it didn’t make any attempt to tackle the underlying corruption here. By that I mean the concept that everyone in any position of influence is entitled to expect some kind of consideration for doing work they are already been paid by CIG to undertake and that it is perfectly acceptable to put public money in the pockets of their friends and relatives. Put in blunt terms the ‘what’s in it for me’ mindset that pervades significant areas of local society would have made a much better story.

    @Norman Linton

    I agree with you about opening a bank on-island for personal use, I’ve been through it. What Peretti should have done was opened an account from the UK before flying out. That would have been a very different story and much better ammunition for tax haven bashing.

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