After being on television screens for 27 years, Cayman’s only local TV news station will close down Friday, 30 Aug., with the loss of 13 jobs.
Hurley’s TV Ltd., which runs Cayman 27, will cease operations and the station will broadcast its last show, Cayman 27 News, at 6pm.
Randy Merren, managing director of Hurley’s TV Ltd., said the station had been struggling for the better part of a decade and cited a lack of cooperation from regulator OfReg as the reason behind the closure.
The company owes more than $100,000 in unpaid regulatory and licence fees to OfReg. The regulator issued an enforcement notice to Hurley’s TV Ltd. on 31 July, followed by a notice of suspension that informed the company that it would be suspending its licence on 1 Sept.
Merren said his company had had repeated discussions with the regulator on how to make the station financially viable, including the possibility of the introduction of subscription fees, but no steps were taken.
Of the 13 staff members who are losing their jobs, 10 are Caymanian, two are permanent residents and one is a work permit holder. Seven of the staff are full-time, and the others are part time, Television Station Manager Tammi Sulliman said.
Merren also owns a number of local radio stations, including BOB FM, Rooster and Z99. Sulliman said the radio stations were not affected by the decision to close Hurley’s TV Ltd. She said Hurley’s Media was working with SteppingStones recruitment agency to help find positions for staffers who are losing their jobs.
Merren said in the statement that before buying the business, he had discussed the TV station’s financial issues with OfReg officials, “and I was under the impression that there would be the creation of a ‘must carry’ fee, where each subscription TV licensed operator would pay to carry Cayman 27, so they could fulfill their own licence obligations that required each to provide local content. The ‘must carry’ fee or Universal Service Fund never came to pass”.
He said that earlier this year, Cayman 27 received an OfReg notice of unpaid fees spanning “a couple of years”. According to documents seen by the Cayman Compass, the unpaid fees totalled $103,619.71 and related to outstanding licence and regulatory fees.
Merren said that, in May, Cayman 27 again laid out to OfReg the issues the company faced, stating that without a monetary contribution of a subscription fee, Hurley’s TV Ltd. would have “no choice but to terminate the channel’s current programming, as it is unsustainable under its licence requirements”.
In June this year, OfReg launched a public consultation on its regulatory remit issues, including the subject of local content. The consultation period on that was extended until 16 Aug.
Before that consultation was completed, Cayman 27 received an enforcement notice as its 29 July compliance date for payment of outstanding fees had passed. A couple of weeks later, Merren said, OfReg issued a suspension notice, giving Cayman 27 a deadline of 1 Sept. to address the financial compliance issues, or its licence rights would be suspended.
“In the absence of support from successive government administrations and a lack of a level playing field set by the regulator, we find ourselves in the regrettable position of no longer being able to continue daily operations. We have no choice but to shut down Cayman 27 and Hurley’s TV Ltd.,” said Merren.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, under whose ministerial remit OfReg falls, issued a statement on Thursday saying, “The decision to close the station was one made by its owner on the basis that it was not commercially viable. As far as the regulatory breaches are concerned, questions in this regard should be put to the regulator, OfReg.”
Requests for comment from OfReg’s Acting CEO Alee Fa’amoe were not answered by press time. An email from OfReg stated that Fa’amoe is on vacation.
Premier McLaughlin said the government believes that a television station that produces and broadcasts local programmes and news is “a critical piece of Cayman’s information infrastructure”, and added that the government would “immediately begin exploration as to how the void created by the closure of Cayman27 can quickly be filled”.
The Cayman Islands government in 2012 launched its own television station, CIG TV, which can be viewed on channel 23 and online.
The premier also stated, “The government is very concerned about the loss of Caymanian jobs and will make available all of government’s resources to assist with finding them alternative employment.”
Cayman 27 opened in 1992, and was first a division of WestStar TV Ltd., before becoming part of Logic Communications Ltd. in 2014. It was acquired by Hurley’s Media the following year.
Merren said that during the regulator’s 2015 consultation period looking at the future of local television broadcasting, numerous submissions were made pointing out that the market was too small to support one TV station as a stand-alone free-to-air station without some sort of subscription model.
He said Cayman 27 had never been profitable and had been subsidised from its inception by its parent company WestStar as part of its own cable licence requirement that it provide local content.
Asked if any entities had been approached to buy Cayman 27 before it shut down, Sulliman said there had been no effort to find a buyer, as the channel was not financially viable. “We were so far down the river, there was no turning back,” she said.
Merren said that over the years, Cayman 27 had consistently provided local content comprised of news, weather, sports, talk shows, hurricane information and community events.
Cayman 27 also employed and trained Caymanians to learn the tools of both the television production and television journalism trades, Sulliman said in the statement. “The training of Caymanians at the TV station is one aspect of which I am immensely proud. As long as someone was willing to learn and dedicate themselves to the service of the country through the work we do, the team at Cayman 27 always took the time to train and upskill those who needed it,” she said.
“The loss of this important training ground is one that personally affects me, as I am acutely aware of how many people gained skills and employment as a result of their time at Cayman 27.”
The station, originally called CITN, launched in September 1992, sending its first broadcast on UHF Channel 27. It was originally located at a converted warehouse space over Island Electronics on Godfrey Nixon Way before moving to the Television Centre, off Eastern Avenue, where it remained for more than 20 years, before moving to an office in Camana Bay after Merren bought it.