We thought “lunacy” was in vogue during the solar eclipse that swept across North America on Monday — but apparently some of it carried over into Wednesday’s opening of the Legislative Assembly.
We aren’t referring to anything that took place on the floor of the Cayman Islands parliament, but rather to the treatment of a Compass journalist sent there to cover this public event.
The reporter, who is relatively new to the newspaper and the country, had properly requested press credentials from Legislative Assembly Clerk Zena Merren-Chin on Tuesday afternoon. As of Wednesday morning, the “press pass” had not yet been issued. (We’re not being critical — processing documents sometimes takes time.)
When our reporter arrived at the LA, he encountered a formidable fellow, Serjeant-at-Arms John Kim Evans Jr., who told him that since he had no press pass, he could not sit in the “Press Box” — a small section reserved for members of the media. (Fair enough; rules are rules.)
Instead, Mr. Evans told our reporter he could sit, like everyone else, in the public gallery. (Also perfectly acceptable.) Only he couldn’t take notes: electronic or handwritten. (Not perfectly acceptable; in fact, not acceptable at all.)
All exasperated parents know that a universal habit among cranky children is, when they are told what or what not to do, they respond annoyingly and incessantly with, “Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?”
Journalists do the same thing, and we cannot move on from the seemingly impromptu prohibition of note-taking without asking, “Why.”
We sought our own answer. We scoured the Legislative Assembly Standing Orders and “Speaker’s Rules” issued in 2013 by previous House Speaker Juliana O’Connor-Connolly for an explanation. Speakers of the House, currently McKeeva Bush, have great discretion over allowing members of the public (defined in the law as “Strangers”) into the LA, and under what conditions.
For example, duly credentialed members of the press must sit in the Press Box, where they are permitted to use tablets, computers and the like.
(An aside: The Speaker’s Rules also state, “It is considered disorderly for any clapping, talking, gesture, nod or any other communication between Members and persons in the public gallery or press boxes.” Well … as journalists we’ve attended scores of parliamentary sessions over the years, and we haven’t witnessed much “disorderly” nodding directed at MLAs. (Although, admittedly, we have seen, on occasion, MLAs “nodding off” in their chairs. Does that qualify as an infraction?)
Seeking clarification on the ban on note-taking, we contacted Clerk Merren-Chin Wednesday afternoon, and as of press time were still awaiting a response.
Eventually, our resourceful reporter returned to the Compass newsroom, where he watched the LA proceedings via a livestream on government’s YouTube channel. Sitting in his chair at his own desk, he took copious notes and, truth be told, we may have caught him in what we think was a nod or two. In any event, he produced the story that led the front page of Thursday’s newspaper.
We must acknowledge our gratitude to Speaker McKeeva Bush, who responded to our concerns as soon as they were brought to his attention, and personally saw to it that our journalist was freely admitted during Thursday’s session, with no restrictions regarding pen and paper.
Generally our position is we oppose any special privileges being granted to the media. Press Boxes — who needs ’em?
Ultimately, a journalist is, or should be, an “everyman.” We don’t need a special business-class or a VIP section. The “cheap seats” will do just fine — but we do need to take notes.