The Cayman Compass has a strong policy on anonymity: We’re against it.
We require letters to the editor, and comments on stories online, to be signed before we publish them. We believe that requiring people to “own” their words encourages greater honesty, civility and thoughtfulness.
We name sources and subjects in our news stories, unless there are compelling reasons for us to grant anonymity. Transparency builds trust with our readers, and helps them evaluate the information we share.
That information-sharing is a two-way street. For example, we publish signed letters on this editorial page even when the views expressed diverge from, or are diametrically opposed to, ours. When the content of those letters is serious enough, we deem them worthy of a response.
Consider Monday’s missive from local attorney Richard H. Barton Jr.
Mr. Barton criticized our coverage of an incident earlier this month, when a small exotic possum called a “sugar glider” got loose on an inbound Cayman Airways flight from Miami. Two people were arrested in connection with the incident, which led to the subsequent search of a local property, where other non-indigenous animals were found. No charges have been filed, and officials have not disclosed publicly the names of the people arrested.
Nevertheless, this newspaper decided to identify one of the people arrested as Jimel McLean, son of East End MLA Arden McLean.
In his letter, Mr. Barton questioned the Compass’ decision to publish Jimel McLean’s name, observing that there appears to be a “vast inconsistency” in the Compass’ coverage concerning the naming of criminal suspects who have been arrested but not yet charged.
We freely concede the point: Mr. Barton’s observation is correct.
However, rather than “the temptation for sensational and scandalous journalism” (Mr. Barton’s words), our motivations are the opposite. We soberly weigh each decision to publish or withhold the names of people who have been arrested, including in this case.
The proverbial “litmus test” for anything we publish, or choose not to, is the public interest.
In the case of Jimel McLean, the decision was straightforward, for three fundamental reasons.
First, the seriousness of the allegations should not be understated. The illegal importation of exotic animal species into Cayman has the potential to disrupt the environment of our country – i.e., our shared home.
Second, we had the facts verified and re-verified before publication. We received information from firsthand sources, cross-checked it with other sources and confirmed it with still other sources, including (off the record) officials in law enforcement. Before we wrote the story, we sought legal counsel (a step no other Cayman media house likely would take) on whether we could lawfully name Jimel McLean, and after the story was written, we waited on our attorneys, who vetted the entire story, to give us the green light before we went to print.
Third, it cannot be ignored that Jimel McLean is the son of a prominent elected official. In cases such as these, which involve people in power or their family members, it is important that the public has all the facts, if for no other reason than to dispel speculation that the person arrested is somehow receiving favorable – or unfavorable – treatment at the hands of law enforcement.
If you’re searching for precedent, look no further than the December 2012 arrest of then-Premier McKeeva Bush, whom police publicly identified practically at the moment of arrest, and long before any charges were filed.
In brief, it would not be “responsible journalism” (again, Mr. Barton’s words) if we neglected to report critical details on such a high-profile, high-altitude event that carries serious potential consequences for the entire country.
We do not believe in “naming and shaming” people to achieve justice. We believe in “arresting, charging and prosecuting.”
All too often, police make arrests without criminal charges – or public exonerations – ever materializing. (In fact, we editorialized about that yesterday.)
For decades, Cayman’s media houses, including the Compass, have voluntarily adhered to the local custom of not publishing the names of people who have been arrested but not yet charged. That obligation has been imposed by ourselves as news organizations – not by law.
In the future, expect the Compass to depart from that tradition whenever it is in the public interest. Expect more names to appear in this newspaper, not fewer. But we will never do so without extensive deliberation and, when necessary, before taking competent legal advice.