“Any organization that controls mainstream media has incredible power over what people do and how they perceive and think about the world they live in.”
After almost three days on the stand in the Matthew Leslie criminal harassment case, Sandy Hill completed her testimony late yesterday afternoon. It appears to be the desire of the prosecution to prevent Hill from ever reporting on Matthew Leslie in the future.
Exercising freedom of speech at both a personal and professional level is under attack in the Cayman Islands and this is a matter for all to be concerned about. Matthew Leslie, operating via the police and DPP’s office wants to put a permanent gag order on CMR and Sandy Hill.
Even during the trial, she sought unsuccessfully to restrict CMR’s ability to report on the happenings of the case even at times when we were the only media representatives there.
No other logical conclusion can be drawn.
This point was made very obvious by the manner in which Crown Counsel Darlene Oko concluded her lengthy cross-examination late yesterday afternoon. She sought to confirm if Hill would stop any future publication on Matthew Leslie as a result of this criminal case.
Hill made it very clear that it would not. If Leslie does anything or engages in any behavior that is newsworthy or in the public’s interest to know CMR will be reporting it regardless of the outcome of this case.
It does not take anyone with legal training to conclude that if that is ultimately their concern then the main objective of this criminal trial against CMR is merely one of control. The prosecution is hoping to control the future behavior of this publication and Hill herself by obtaining a criminal conviction. This very point is what, in part, Hill believes is the objective of this entire case.
The apparent desire to use the criminal justice system as a tool to silence Hill is the primary objective of this prosecution.
According to the police Leslie had attempted on numerous occasions in the past to have them intervene on his behalf to curtail basic freedom of speech and the public’s access to information about his various dealings. He wishes to portray a singular social media view of who he is – a portrayal that we say is largely inaccurate.
What is the public interest here? Should you be an investor or parent in the community his history is a legitimate concern.
Leslie’s motives here are significant. He wants to shut down CMR’s ability to monitor and follow his moves because that makes it impossible for him to reel in investors who have heard the stories about him. It places the community at large on notice.
This is significant to Leslie. So much so that he has now resorted to largely remaining overseas to find investors because the ones in Cayman have been adequately informed that proper due diligence on him should be carried out.
This is a central part of what CMR does that no other publication in Cayman focuses on – protection of the public by way of information. They do not hold companies or individuals to account. They do not engage in stories and exposes that seek to encourage consumer protection and at the very least consumer information. This is a common practice elsewhere but not in the Cayman Islands.
In the United States, segments like Help Me Howard are famous for “journalists” and “news reporters” getting involved in consumer disputes and presenting that to the public. The most recent #Black Lives Matter movements see journalists getting involved in protests themselves and taking a position.
Journalists can hold a personal opinion. They can and do host podcasts. They can be raw and hard-hitting.
CMR has written articles on Leslie about him providing misinformation to the government in order to obtain a pecuniary benefit (stamp duty waiver). There was also the use of public funds for the Pacquaio fight where monies remain outstanding to this day to overseas event organizers.
The legitimacy of these concerns is of significant public interest – government funds being possibly misused by an individual and obtained with allegedly fraudulent supportive documents is newsworthy.
We all are concerned about the use or potential misuse of government funds in this community. In fact, by comparison, the Nation Building Fund came under great scrutiny for the very same reason.
It appears that on each occasion that Hill reported on Leslie he not only objected but made attempts to misuse the criminal justice system in order to achieve his ultimate goal – permanently stoping CMR from having the ability to report on him.
The police themselves indicated they never contacted CMR previously because they were of the opinion that these were all matters for civil court jurisdiction.
In this case, Hill testified that the one occasion when they appeared to speak with her about Leslie’s concerns they also shared that this was still civil. In fact, now it appears that on the stand Inspector Ormule changes his story slightly to say he was not referring to the pending podcast that is the central to this case.
The question then becomes, if this case is a matter of prosecutorial overreaching to primarily curtail future behavior how can this be right when it relates to basic media freedoms and freedom of speech?
Since CMR has arrived on the scene some three years ago the establishment has struggled to understand and pigeonhole it into a tight definition of “media” or “journalism”. In fact, in attempts to undermine the validity of what Cayman Marl Road does some will use the term “blogger” instead.
The times have changed in relation to media outlets and even how journalists operate and how they are defined. Most operating in the world of media are not formally trained journalists because the very nature of journalism has changed. This change has not been easily accepted by those who do not understand it. But the inability to accept a changing industry for what it is cannot negate the impact and role of the new world of media and journalism.
There are news reporters in the Cayman Islands who simply get a job at Cayman 27 for example. They have had no previous experience in writing or journalism.
In this case, Oko sought to undermine the credibility of Hill as a journalist. This is despite having a business license for an online news publication and being accepted as media by the very court in which the case is being heard.
What makes her the judge of what is a digital or online new publication? The people have accepted CMR as the island’s #1 news source and this has been bourne out time and time again. Multiple media surveys have concluded that in the eyes of the community CMR is a news outlet/media.
The attempt to control CMR via criminal prosecution is not over. There are at least two more cases coming down the pipeline where the DPP will have a second and third go at CMR/Sandy Hill. The aim is to control what and how she says what she does and how it’s done.
The aim of CMR is provide information to the public. Not all information is relevant to all persons as with any publication. Not all information is of interest to all persons. However, we have a job to do and we will continue to do so.
The Marl Road is now well paved on the information superhighway. However, government agencies and police cannot attempt to control the dissemination of information or what we do simply because they are offended by it or because a particular individual is afraid of the power of the podcast.
CMR has made some in our society uneasy, but making someone uneasy should not be a criminal offense. Provided it is the truth the courts cannot find much footing for someone being offended by a publication under the civil court system.
News with a raw, edgy and largely unfiltered approach offends those use to uphold the old guard of media houses; which have largely fallen by the wayside.
Cayman may not have been fully ready for CMR but in less than three years it has become the island’s number one source for news and general information. Media surveys after media surveys have confirmed this without contradiction. The results remain hidden because the very parties requesting the surveys do not want the general public to have access to this information.
The outcome of this case will set the way forward for continued freedoms of expression in the Cayman Islands.