Former Cabinet Secretary Orrett “OC” Connor, who has a post-retirement job hosting a thrice-weekly talk show on Radio Cayman, took to the airwaves last Friday to sound off on the biggest news story of the year: Canover Watson’s unanimous conviction by a seven-member Caymanian jury on five criminal charges related to the fraudulent CarePay scheme.
In his remarks regarding Watson using his public position as then-chairman of the Health Services Authority to steal hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars from the Cayman Islands government, Mr. Connor went on to castigate the Cayman Compass for publishing a photograph of Watson, doing his “perp walk” in police custody, on that day’s front page. (Other media outlets in Cayman published similar photos.)
Mr. Connor insinuated that the newspaper’s motivation behind publishing that image was that Watson is “a Caymanian of color.”
Shame on you, Mr. Connor.
Venomous remarks that are calculated to divide people on the basis of skin color are always reprehensible but even more so when uttered by someone of Mr. Connor’s stature.
Interestingly, we are unable to quote more extensively from Mr. Connor’s comments, which were monitored by several journalists in our newsroom. While we are certain of the accuracy of our reporting, we requested from Radio Cayman the actual audio recording from Mr. Connor’s broadcast. Station staff informed us that, because of technological malfunctions, the usual backup failed.
However, as the British say, Radio Cayman employs a redundant “belt and braces” approach to backing up its daily broadcasts. In case something goes amiss, a second backup is always recorded. Only in this instance, “Our back-up to the back-up also failed,” station staff said.
Delving back into Compass archives, we retrieved the front page of our Feb. 20, 2007, edition. It included a large photograph of Canover Watson during a happier moment, when he won the Young Caymanian Leadership Award. How does Mr. Connor reconcile the two contrasting images?
We’ll help him: They were both news.
Simply put, the Compass is not in the business of “bad news” or “good news.” We are in the news business.
Readers will no doubt recall another “show trial” that ended with a very different result — that of former Premier McKeeva Bush who was acquitted on all charges of corruption. Mr. Bush was not surprisingly featured prominently on Page One of the Compass in a photo as he emerged from the court building.
In regard to Mr. Connor’s statements, let us stipulate the following: While poisonous and odious, his words may or may not cross the line between defamation and fair comment.
What makes them of particular interest is that they were uttered on a government radio station by a man who has drawn his paycheck for as long as we can recall from government. Mr. Connor would be well advised to ponder the language of Grand Court Judge Michael Mettyear in addressing Watson when he sentenced him to seven years in Northward Prison:
“The evidence against you was overwhelming. You conspired with Jeff Webb to steal money from the Cayman Islands government.” And, it follows, when he stole from government, he stole from all of us, including, yes, Mr. Connor.
In their 2014 report on Cayman’s civil service, Ernst & Young consultants recommended that the government get out of the radio business and that Radio Cayman be sold to the private sector. The consultants were correct.