(CMR) During the Legislative Assembly session today Premier Alden McLaughlin was asked a serious of questions about the media's access to press briefings, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan took his former boss to task on why several local media houses have been systematically excluded from press briefings.
This blatant discrimination became increasingly obvious to many when the briefing moved to the online Zoom platform back in April. CMR was actually inundated with questions about our absence and in fact, had made the premier aware of the matter.
We will break down why we say the Premier was being less than honest in our morning edition of The Cold Hard Truth. Click on the below link to join us or live via the website!
During the LA questioning session, McLaughlin claimed to have NO knowledge of anyone not being granted access. He appeared to stress that the decision was not his but being made solely by the civil service arm of government, Government Information Services.
In January 2020, CMR lodged a complaint against this discriminatory action and has since taken additional actions to have the matter rectified. Whilst we still remain hopeful that it can be resolved it appears that CMR is not the only media house being excluded.
Whilst some of the questions were directly about Cayman Marl Road, the issue was not brought to the floor of the legislative assembly because of CMR. Instead, Bryan shared that he was “sick and tired of a double standard with the government trying to silence media in the Cayman Islands.” He stressed the need to have this all-important “fourth arm of government” that allows for greater accountability of elected officials.
Sharing that he too has seen the wrath of journalists in the Cayman Islands he continues to be a staunch supporter of their role in a democratic society. Speaking briefly to Cayman Marl Road this afternoon, Bryan, a former journalist himself, noted with interest this government's desire to disfranchise and castigate non-traditional media in the Cayman Islands.
In fact, even “traditional media” has come under attack by the Premier on occasion in the past. Perhaps the most flagrant episode was when the government stopped advertising with the Cayman Compass under David Legge ownership.
At the time the Washington Post reported that:
Just ask David and Vicki Legge, publishers of the Cayman Islands' only daily newspaper, who say they have had to leave Grand Cayman and seek refuge in Florida after an editorial in response to the FIFA scandal caught the ire of Premier Alden McLaughlin.
“He put a target on my back, to my mind,” David Legge says in a phone call from Florida. “And my wife’s as well.”
The Guardian also reported that there was a “press freedom” scandal brewing in the Cayman Islands at the time:
David Legge, editor-in-chief of the Cayman Compass and co-owner of the paper with his wife, Vicki, says he had to flee because the prime minister, Alden McLaughlin, “put a target on my back”.
At the time McLaughlin referred to comments made by Leggee about the FIFA scandal and government's response to it as “reckless”. He told his fellow LA members that a Compass editorial:
“must be interpreted as a treasonous attack on the Cayman Islands and on all the people of Cayman”.
Legge claimed that he had to “run for his life” back in June 2015 as the situation escalated. Seen by many as an overdramatic response by both Legge and McLaughlin; the Premier soon buckled to pressure from the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce and others. Without much fanfare, the advertising was reinstated some months later.
Quite interestingly, the decision to resume advertising was made with no repealing of the LA motion that implemented it in the first place. Rumors of back door deals to put the advertising back in place were widely circulated at the time. The government is considered to be the Compass's largest single advertiser between jobs ads and advertising events across government entities.
Legge's reach was far and wide in spreading the word on what the government had done ultimately causing a change of heart for the premier. However, Wendy Ledger from CNS has not enjoyed such benefits. She also recently came under his government's wrath for daring to ask a question about Minister Seymour's wife allegedly breaking curfew provisions.
McLaughlin also had a tumultuous relationship with media dating back to the beginning of his political career with Desmond Seale's now-defunct Cayman Net News.
In today's LA session, McLaughlin erroneously shared that CMR does not have a media license and that apparently he is unaware of anyone being excluded from press conferences or any complaints in this regard. This comment was made despite the fact that CMR has made contact with the premier about this very issue on several occasions.
The irony of this is just last week McLaughlin admitted that he would not be prepared to bail out the Cayman Compass if they lost revenue because of job advertisements now primarily disappearing because of the mandated government jobs portal. Instead, he shared that they should seek ways of being “more innovative” to keep up with the times and reach their audience members.
Despite, the changing face of media, the elected government and Government Information Services appear to be struggling with how to define journalism in 2020. CMR's Sandy Hill shared:
“It's ironic that we have a business license as media, been given media status by the courts, etc. and yet Alden seems to still what to question our credentials.
What's even crazier is that other “reporters/journalists with fewer credentials, being practical high school leavers have been acknowledged in the past by him and GIS as meeting their requirements for journalists. Its wreaks of favoritism and an obvious double standard. It will likely take a legal challenge to rectify this.”
Hill has written for multiple local and overseas newspaper dates back to the mid-1990s when she was a staff writer at The Oracle at the University of South Florida. Writing numerous pieces for that publication allowed her to interview several prominent individuals including renowned keynote speakers from the Middle East. Since then she has written for at least three local news publications and one regional online paper.