During an appropriate display of pomp and circumstance on Wednesday, Cayman Islands Governor Helen Kilpatrick presided over the official swearing-in of a 13-member coalition government, led by Premier Alden McLaughlin.
Putting a stamp of certainty on a week of surprises and political intrigue, the ceremony confirmed the appointments of the Hon. McKeeva Bush as Speaker of the House and the Hon. Moses Kirkconnell as deputy premier, as well as the other ministerial positions.
The events at the Legislative Assembly were dutifully covered by the country’s media outlets, including the Compass, giving people “front-row seats” to Wednesday’s events.
Preparations to provide coverage should have been a straightforward affair: We all know where the Legislative Assembly is, and we all knew when the swearing-in ceremony would take place. The Compass would dispatch a suitably-sized team of reporters and photographers to take pictures and notes on this controlled, scripted and predictable event. Pretty simple, right?
Enter the government’s communications apparatus. Over the past week, the Compass’s inboxes have been inundated with messages, notifications, requests and demands – who will attend, what will they be doing, do they have the proper media credentials, etc.
One email chain stretched out for about a dozen messages, merely to settle upon which Compass staffers would be admitted into the Legislative Assembly (a public building that is known as “the people’s House”).
For reasons far beyond reason (at least to us), civil servants were also highly concerned that all journalists obtain a special “press pass” to enter the Legislative Assembly, only they couldn’t obtain them unless they first filled out a “registration of interests form” (a stipulation that, in the words of Premier McLaughlin, is “curious” because many senior civil servants and appointed board members do not have to disclose their interests in order to serve in government).
For the record, nobody knows GIS better than we do. We deal with them and government’s sprawling communications apparatus on a daily basis. The government’s “media empire” now includes radio and television outlets, public relations personnel, information officers for various departments, a separate press secretary for the premier, not to mention a newly created post to oversee “internal communications.”
Not surprisingly, much of GIS’s time and energy is spent on creating “content” for their own media channels (one hand feeding the other). These are businesses that the government has no business being in since they compete directly with the private sector.
(Government has an added advantage because it can, and does, offer prospective employees benefit packages that the private sector cannot match – free healthcare, no pension contributions, no work permit requirements, and no rollover threat after nine years of employment.)
That aside, our greater concern is that government “information bureaucrats” are increasingly acting as if they were “information constables” or “media regulators.”
They are neither.
All the regulation a free press requires is contained in the inalienable right of free speech for a free people. The people of these islands not only recognize and embrace that right but have enshrined it in the country’s Constitution (as has nearly every free society).
What we are saying is that the Compass will not participate in, or condone through our participation, any exercise that curtails or prevents our pursuit of discovering and publishing news that is in the public interest.
Any attempt by government bureaucrats to regulate, influence or in any way interfere with our lawful news-gathering mission will be met with polite, but firm, rejection.