EDITORIAL – On the Stephens ‘non-deportation’: We got it right

“With regard to [Ato] Stephens’ case, when weighing all of the circumstances, including the nature of the offence for which he was convicted, and the fact that he has a Caymanian spouse and two Caymanian children, the Cabinet is not considering making a deportation order in this instance at this time.”
– Wesley Howell, chief officer, Ministry of Home Affairs

“The Cabinet of the Cayman Islands has not yet considered the court’s recommendation for the deportation of Ato Modibo Stephens.”
– Alden McLaughlin, premier

On Feb. 7, we reported that Cabinet was declining at this time to deport former track coach Ato Stephens, contrary to a recommendation from a Grand Court judge who had found him guilty of convincing a 14-year-old girl to send him topless photos of herself.

In today’s editorial, we aren’t going to argue for or against the deportation of Mr. Stephens, who is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, but holds American citizenship and has a Caymanian spouse and two Caymanian children.

However, we will observe that many people in the community reacted quite strongly, and critically, after we reported that Cabinet was declining at this time to deport Mr. Stephens, in a story based partly on a written statement sent to the Compass from Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Wesley Howell via official Government Information Services channels.

After the story was published, Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller issued his own statement, urging Cabinet to deport Mr. Stephens.

We also got in touch with Premier Alden McLaughlin, who countered his chief officer’s statement, saying it was not the case that Cabinet had decided not to deport Mr. Stephens … but that Cabinet had not yet made a decision either way. (We duly followed up with a story containing the statements from the opposition leader and the premier.)

In the meantime, Chief Officer Howell struck out on an alternative media campaign of his own, speaking on the radio and appearing on television. In a TV interview, Mr. Howell said the Compass story ”was not factual” and that “This is an ongoing matter that is still going through the process.”

Oh, really?

As readers can see from the quote that appears at the top of this editorial, that is not what Mr. Howell said originally, unambiguously, and in black-and-white.

(Again, we will stress, he said it in an official written statement sent to the Compass via a GIS spokesperson. This was not the product of an impromptu phone interview, or an untaped conversation overheard in a bar. Mr. Howell was choosing his words carefully in his statement: The problem, of course, was he chose the wrong words.)

The way we see it, there are three possible explanations for Mr. Howell’s change of tune:

  1. Mr. Howell was mistaken when he said Cabinet was not considering deporting Mr. Stephens
  2. Mr. Howell had the correct information, but communicated it incorrectly
  3. Mr. Howell had the correct information, and communicated it correctly, but Cabinet altered its position after the publication of the story and the ensuing public backlash.

Either way, the Compass’ reporting is not to blame.

Look, in journalistic endeavors, it’s not about being “right” or being “wrong” – our goal is to communicate truthfully and objectively to our readers useful and factual information in the relevant context.

When an error finds its way into the newspaper (whether it’s our fault, someone else’s or nobody-in-particular’s), we correct, clarify or, in some instances, apologize for the mistake. Where, and how prominently, we publish corrections – perhaps even right across the top of Page One – depends on the seriousness and magnitude of the particular error.

Issuing corrections is not a task we relish, but it’s a duty we are not reluctant to perform.

No one likes to be wrong – not the Compass, not Cabinet, not a Chief Officer. But people with courage, at minimum, choose to own their own words – and their own mistakes.

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