The state of local media

| 03/10/2019 | 54 Comments

CNS writes: Now that the Cayman Compass is collaborating with the government to bring “independent” video news to the local community, CNS is the last fully-functioning, truly independent media house in the Cayman Islands. This is a very sad moment in Cayman history. The quality of reporting at the Compass has varied over the years, criticised at times for its pro-government stance and at others producing some very solid journalism, but it has for many decades provided a hugely important service to the Cayman community.

This new, open collaboration follows the sudden demise of the local private broadcasting station, Cayman 27, which closed down at the end of August. And something didn’t smell right about that. OfReg, a government entity, chose to flex its muscles to close the TV station down over unpaid licence fees but chose not to flex those same regulatory muscles to enforce the part of licence agreements with cable TV providers that mandates them to provide local content.

This would have defrayed the considerable cost of maintaining Cayman 27, and the lack of enforcement of something that could have saved the station is a point that has not yet been explained.

So now the premier’s statement in the wake of Cayman 27’s closure makes sense. He said that government would “immediately begin exploration as to how the void …can quickly be filled”. It’s hard not to wonder if this collaboration was already under consideration when Cayman 27 was shut down.

Local independent news is in crisis all over the world and it’s getting harder and harder for media houses, from the New York Times to tiny operations like CNS, to survive. But collaborating with the government, however much they insist they will remain independent, feels like a huge mistake for the new owners at the Compass because it will seriously, and perhaps irreparably, damage its reputation as a credible news outlet.

While the premier’s office stated that no money will change hands regarding this arrangement, there remains plenty of wiggle room for back scratching.

One of the interesting outcomes of the spat between Premier Alden McLaughlin and David Legge, then editor and owner of the Cayman Compass, back in 2015 was the revelation that government was at the time spending well over $1 million per year in advertising with the paper. We know this because government briefly boycotted the paper because they objected to a particular editorial, and the advertising spending power emerged during the fallout. 

The Chamber of Commerce jumped in to object to the boycott, rightly pointing out that if government stopped doing business with a particular media house because it objected to the content of a publication, this would be seen as a blow to free speech in the Cayman Islands. 

But the Chamber completely failed to acknowledge that if government advertises almost exclusively with one particular media house that is very often perceived as being pro-government, that is a sucker-punch to free speech. The organisation did not urge government to spread that advertising dollar around fairly and include publications with content that it objected to quite regularly. No, the Chamber urged government to restore this huge buying power specifically to the Compass (a Chamber member), noting, without irony, that the “financial sanction… sets a dangerous precedent”.

Private businesses, of course, is free to put their advertising dollar wherever it likes, and it stands to reason that they will stick to media that aligns with its business interests. But on top of that, print media in the Cayman Islands has traditionally benefited from a mandated income stream from businesses applying for work permits, since they must advertise the jobs in a newspaper before the permit is granted. 

While the process has long been seen as a sham in terms of protection for Caymanian job seekers, it has been good for the recipient media, essentially being a tax on all businesses to prop up a particular business.

However, it is understood that with the implementation of the new WORC agency, print news advertising of jobs will no longer be mandatory as part of the work permit process, which, if this is actually put in effect, will put a serious dent in the income of local newspapers. This will be especially hard on The Cayman Times but will also affect the Compass.

Small local newspapers suffered with the rise of digital news — something that Cayman News Service benefitted from. Because it is internet-based, we were able to build this business with sweat equity, working very long hours for not much pay. But we did not need to find rich backers, who would have been essential for the expensive start up for print news but would inevitably have wanted their say in the editorial content.

But now news media is facing a new challenge with the rise and rise of AdSense and Facebook ads, mixed in with the proliferation of marketing companies here in Cayman, all specialising in digital media, meaning that they will manage your ad campaigns, steering them towards making Mark Zuckerberg and Google executives richer while squeezing local platforms.

Ironically, when the Chamber produced videos explaining why people should buy local, they decided to pay YouTube to run them as ads rather than pay local websites, the ‘shop local except for advertising’ campaign. 

So we understand that the Compass is feeling the pinch and looking for ways to expand, but this is not the way. All media houses take positions on certain issues — and certainly CNS has never tried to hide our stance on, for example, the environment and same-sex marriage, which some support and others object strongly.

But at the end of the day, the public deserves to know that the news they are reading or watching is not tainted by government or big business influence, and that at least you can say about Cayman News Service.

So, to try and keep our heads above water, we have chosen to partner with our readers rather than collaborate with government, launching our CNS TipBox a few months back. Cayman is not big enough to make a subscription news service work, and anyway we want the news to continue to be free for those who cannot afford it, and we especially want people who disagree with us to keep reading and debating the issues in the comment section.

Democracy does not work without a truly free press and without proper debate.

The government, past and present, with its huge advertising buying power, has done little little to stem the perception that “good media” is financially rewarded, while “bad media” is ignored, sometimes literally.

But they are very foolish if they think that the answer is to grab whatever control they can over the local media. One day, maybe sooner than they think, they could find themselves back in opposition. Where do they think their voices will be heard if there is only government media left?

And as for the reading public, we hope that we survive the economic challenges because we honestly believe that the Cayman Islands would be poorer without CNS at this moment in time.

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Comments (54)

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  1. Messenjah says:

    UNLEARN- all that you have been told about Politics, Religion, Education, Media and the Corporations
    They are all tools that are used to shape and “guide” society, exactly the way that “they” want.
    Time to lift the veil, open your eye and realize the truth is hidden in you and all around you.


  2. Anonymous says:

    In light of the outright ridiculousness I read over the weekend regarding the state of the local media in Cayman, I implore people to consider the news outlets they stand beside moving forward.

    Journalism, real journalism, is not just waking up one day and deciding to make yourself a journalist by opening a social media page.

    Journalism is not threatening innocent people, minding their own business, to have skeletons pulled out of their closet because you have a vendetta.

    Journalism is not just writing your opinion or the opinions of your friends on a web page.

    Journalism is not car window pictures with half a story.

    Journalism is not marl road gossip spun into half cocked news.

    Journalism is not mangling the English language to the point where people have to guess what you are trying to write.

    Journalism is not hiding between the laws of another country when you are reporting in your country.

    Journalism is not ripping off other journalists stories.

    Journalism is not rolling off your couch for a low quality FaceTime chat with your sheep.

    It takes a lot to run any business. Inevitably, one day the social media platforms will also change and many people will be left wondering how they could have been so stupid to put their business in someone else’s hands.

    Some days it is like reading the old funny pages while people are out tooting their success and touting their own horn LOL

  3. Anonymous says:

    Secret bureaucracy, it’s just a lie
    The devil’s henchmen, in suit and tie
    A sacred brotherhood, an ancient rite
    Politicians and the double lives they hide

    Violate your rights, no more equality
    Surrender freedom, your Social Security
    We the people face unconstitutional lies
    In greed we trust, in revolution we die

    Our founding fathers are rolling in their graves
    The land of liberty needs a regime change
    Until you no longer know right from wrong
    The constitution isn’t worth the paper it’s written on

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think everyone is missing something here. I’ll give you a clue. It’s got four letters and ends in an ART…. The local media landscape is shifting… control the media… control the people… you only have to look at Rupert Murdoch’s influence in the UK elections over the last 30 years to see that.

  5. Anonymous says:

    My previous comment was not posted probably because it stated that CNS sometimes is clearly biased. However let’s try again to get my opinion across.
    Recall back many decades when a stoic although government run news service such as the BBC was the epitome of unbiased journalism? Well that has changed drastically over the last half century. Now it seems every source including the BBC has its own agenda and is aligned with either the left or right.

    The driving forces of bias in journalism seem to be political and financial power as another commentator alluded to. Journalists owe it to the people to tell All sides of the story and be absolutely unbiased when telling it, why is this so hard to do now in this day and age?

    CNS: Your previous comment included a lot of other accusation that were BS. I’m not going to go into the issue of bias, but I want to be clear: although we at CNS have not always seen eye to eye with the editorial position of the Compass, it and Cayman 27 were both important voices in the community. We believe that the Compass should re-think this and retain its integrity.

    • Anonymous says:

      I disagree whole-heartedly… Every news publication has a bias of some sort, even CNS – and that’s not a bad thing. It falls upon the readers/consumers of said news to read news from all different sources and learn to make up their minds for themselves. There never was and never will be news that is completely free from bias.

      Please correct me if I’m wrong, CNS.

      CNS: No, you are not wrong, although we’d rather call it positions on issues. This is why it is important to have several different credible news outlets, not just CNS and CIGTV and its affiliates.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The most important asset any journalist has is credibility. The belief that they are both impartial and, when necessary, prepared to respect the concepts of source confidentiality and ‘off the record’. This tie up completely undermines all that. Would I talk to a Compass journalist now? Nope!

  7. Anonymous says:

    This Unity Government has to go – can’t wait for election to come. It is the WORSE government ever!

  8. Anonymous says:

    No such thing as independent news coming out of government. We all know that. We will have to depend on other outlets praying that they are not corrupt and bought and paid for by members of government or political parties. You know who you are.

  9. Anonymous says:

    In case you missed the Forbes article. June 24, 2015, 02:00pm

    “ Much the same, a prosperous economic future for the rest of the world is dependent on the health of “tax havens” like the Cayman Islands. If they’re seen as corrupt, and perhaps worse, as bullying of their people and press, the latter will embolden more traditional governments to more aggressively fleece their own citizens”

    “…The editorial in particular called for a thorough investigation of Caymanian Jeffrey Webb..”

    The global implications of corruption in the Caymans

    • Anonymous says:

      You didn’t realize that Forbes has its own patron and agenda? Cayman, a tiny island of 60K can fleece the first world and all the powerful people thereof. Ha, what you been smoking?

      If you actually understood the role that Cayman’s offshore finance played in the world economic structure you would see we are entirely to the benefit of, and also at the mercy of, first world countries.

      get a grip…

  10. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t CNS running an ad for Support Our Tourism in the top right hand corner?

    I am a staunch CNS supporter but I think when you are making some money from government advertising, you can’t complain about not making enough.

    CNS: I want to put the note in here, sorry to break up your comment. We have always had some advertising from government – and very happy to have it and grateful for those government entities that do purchase ad space regardless. But it’s a few hundred here and there, occasionally a few thousand, not even close to being the tiniest sliver of government’s overall spend. We don’t expect it to grow significantly because there is no way that we will ever compromise our editorial content. That’s not a complaint, that’s the reality of the situation.

    Maybe you can run the CIG news in tandem as well? The more venues that get out the government news, the more room for healthy discussions.

    If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

    CIG News should be open source. You can still editorialize, you just won’t give away precious clicks to other news sources as people watch the videos.

    CNS: Sorry, but we just can’t join ’em. We’ll close CNS down first. I’m very happy to be proved wrong but I really don’t believe that the news on CIGTV, whoever supplies it, will be critical of government.

    • Anonymous says:

      I hope I didn’t offend you, CNS. I understand your comments. I understand your plight. I do.

      Additionally, I do appreciate and respect the situation at hand.

      I was just wondering if you could post the CIG news and then be critical of it? So then you would get all of the traffic.

      If the CIG News isn’t open source, given that they are the government and should be responsible for getting their news out to as many people as possible, that is a symptom of a much larger issue at hand in Cayman. I say that as I understand exactly what happened to Cayman27.

      I saw on the Rooster this morning, the FB feed, that there was an “L” bracket around the live video feed with advertising for Subway and WokNRoll. I could see you implementing something similar.

      Can you put advertisements, dispersed, through the comments section? Nothing fancy, perhaps a static ad. That would be a great place for advertisers! Can you imagine the traffic on certain topics!!?

      You get so much traffic due to your excellent reporting and free speech (within reason) comments. I feel like you can monetize. I’ll think on it.

      Thank you for publishing my comment and responding. I have a lot of respect for your stance.

      CNS: No offence at all. I really appreciate you taking the time to make these suggestions.

      Our belief is that it is just not possible to collaborate with government and retain independence, if not in reality then certainly in perception. But the way that this government behaves towards the media when they don’t like what they produce (remember the treason accusation?) suggests that this is just not going to work. Credibility is hard won and easily lost, and I really hope that the Compass changes its mind about this. Meanwhile, reinstating the regular press conferences would be nice if the government is truly open to transparency.

      Having ads in between the comments is an interesting idea. I’ve never seen it done so there’s no handy plugin, which means even if it was possible, and I’m not sure it is, I suspect it would be an expensive experiment – we’d have to hire someone to do that. We do have ad spaces to the right of the comments and they seem to work well. We’re open to ideas though.

      • Anonymous says:

        didn’t you roast the target(s) of the treason accusation?

        Just sayin…

        Appreciate that free press isn’t really free, but how we move from a polarised echo chamber to a reasonable discourse is difficult. Kudo’s to CNS for aiming to find independance and the ability to keep the lights on and pay salaries to pro wordsmiths that can keep the people thinking.

        CNS: Yes, we did roast Legge, not for the editorial or for any political point of view but for his reaction to the treason accusation. Both he and the premier ended up looking ridiculous.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi CNS – me again – you are still early enough out (early October) to run an advertising SALE for Christmas. One month of quality advertising on CNS. A trial for them. Show them what you can do, how many people you can reach. I assume the next few months are going to be humdingers for hits on your website.

      If you have an email list, shoot out a mass email soon and tell everyone that you’re rates will be on sale for December Holiday advertising. 🙂 You can do this!

      Maybe, if they buy advertising for the month of December (make it enticing), tell them you’ll give them a super rate if they sign on for 6 months. A super SUPER rate if they sign on for one year. Give them until January 31 to make the decision.

      I wonder if you get the click through rates on your ads? You could send the advertisers (once they sign on) what their click throughs were, obviously sometimes just seeing an ad is enough so lots of factors here. Just throwing out ideas. I know it’s a lot of work but I think once you have the advertiser, they would stick with you.

      CNS: We may have to hire you at this rate! Many thanks for all your ideas.

  11. Anonymous says:

    CNS is no different, they filter out anything offensive.

    Creating false dichotomies is how populations have been cattled for decades now.

    Back to my family, it has been the only thing true in my life.

    • Anonymous says:

      A most powerful and befitting comment. Family is what matters at the end of the day and not all of these fake battle lines created day and night by people trying to manipulate your thinking and crush your views.

      There is NO INDEPENDENT source of information. It does not exist anymore in this world. Independent Journalism is dead.

      Love your family and treat people with respect. Makes for a better world.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you.

      • Anonymous says:

        Then why are you on CNS?
        I never get people like you:

        “There is NO INDEPENDENT source of information. It does not exist anymore in this world. Independent Journalism is dead.”

        Then why are you here, go put your anti-mind control colander on your head and wrap yourself up in your tinfoil blanket so the aliens and the globalists don’t find you

        • Anonymous says:

          I am here like my bredrin Whodatis to keep a different perspective on the table.

          Nuf respect for CNS keeping up their hustle in this big money game but even their news sometimes comes with a twist. They often have an underlying narrative too and issues they are biased towards.

          Having an independent voice reporting facts only without an editorial voice, guiding hand or economic objective does not exist anymore.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This is really just ‘same old, same old’ for the Compass. I well remember back in the late 1990s it was little more than an extension of CIG. During one memorable week they published an editorial extolling the ‘more is better’ concept of cruise arrivals when everyone I knew who worked in the GT shops said it was exactly the opposite, the more people in town the less money they took. A couple of days later there was a drive-by shooting in central GT but that story was conveniently ignored.

    I think the writing was on the proverbial wall for the Compass when Brent Fuller left, he was never afraid to get stuck in when the need arose.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately the end game is for the Lodge to control the entire narrative for the news that is trickled down to us peons.
    JFK saw this first hand and it led him to declare the following publicly.

    President John F. Kennedy
    Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City
    April 27, 1961
    “The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.

    But I do ask every publisher, every editor, and every newsman in the nation to reexamine his own standards, and to recognize the nature of our country’s peril. In time of war, the government and the press have customarily joined in an effort based largely on self-discipline, to prevent unauthorized disclosures to the enemy. In time of “clear and present danger,” the courts have held that even the privileged rights of the First Amendment must yield to the public’s need for national security.

    Today no war has been declared–and however fierce the struggle may be, it may never be declared in the traditional fashion. Our way of life is under attack. Those who make themselves our enemy are advancing around the globe. The survival of our friends is in danger. And yet no war has been declared, no borders have been crossed by marching troops, no missiles have been fired.

    If the press is awaiting a declaration of war before it imposes the self-discipline of combat conditions, then I can only say that no war ever posed a greater threat to our security. If you are awaiting a finding of “clear and present danger,” then I can only say that the danger has never been more clear and its presence has never been more imminent.

    It requires a change in outlook, a change in tactics, a change in missions–by the government, by the people, by every businessman or labor leader, and by every newspaper. For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence–on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day. It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations.

    Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed. It conducts the Cold War, in short, with a war-time discipline no democracy would ever hope or wish to match.”
    In closing, many of us know about these idiot, perverted freemasons who have infiltrated every area of government, politics, law enforcement, medicine, judiciary, finance and now it would seem, the last bastion, the Free Press.

    We have tried to warn the people, but I guess we are just conspiracy theorists?
    Well, it would appear not. We also understand the violence that would happen if anyone attempted to expose these criminals.

    BTW. You can listen to the whole speech here:-

    Alas, I fear we will be witnessing the demise of any free press in the coming year or two. Until that day, I will continue to do my bit to help whenver possible.

    • Anonymous says:

      In the words of Benjamin Franklin, a prominent freemason, don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

      Nowhere in the speech does JFK use the word freemason. Was he the kind of President that would have been afraid to use that word? Was he aware that the first US President and more than 50% of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence were freemasons?

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t mean to be thick but what is your point 9:35am? Or are you just asking questions?
        What is it that you are trying to convey?

        • Anonymous says:

          Thanks for covering my back. Respect to you.
          The world is now almost completely polarized. The sheep are being trampled by the goats, the tares are taunting the wheat with their arrogant posturing.
          But at the end of the day, the Light will triumph over the darkness.
          For those of you who claim to be “illuminated” and yet your god is your own belly, then let me re-iterate the words of the Master. “If the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
          Blind fools trading temporal riches for eternal poverty.
          What will you say on that fearful day?

  14. Bishop Nicholas Sykes says:

    There is no question in my mind that the Cayman media situation especially with the sad recent realignments would be the poorer by far without CNS.

    However any newspaper offering anonymous comments should not allow open slander, and it is time CNS tightened up its policies on that matter.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Things that make you go hmmmm.. Alden is starting the propaganda machine for the next election..

  16. Anonymous says:

    This is very rich

  17. Anonymous says:

    thank god for cns. would the port referendum be happening without the influence of cns???
    i don’t think so.

  18. MI6 in Paradise says:

    Thank you CNS for all that you do as an independent media outlet.

    The Compass lost its way years ago and the formal partnership with the government is finally in the open. They have always been pro-government leaning because they are owned and influenced by the big shots in corporate cayman that finance the campaign war chests of political parties and politicians. Does anybody remember the editorials of Mr. Leggee who occasionally challenged the government and called out the systemic corruption that exists in the Cayman Islands?

    However, they soon made up after certain captains of industry and high ranking members of the plutocracy intervened to remind the two massive battling egos that their spat was bad for business and the status quo. Once the cooler heads prevailed and the status quo was reestablished the actions of the Compass regarded as Treasonous by the Premier were forgotten because those who finance the business of politics and who also control the media cannot afford to have the public understand the connection between independent thinking, critical analysis and journalist integrity versus politics money and financial power.

    What Wendy Ledger and Nicky Watson have done as CNS is nothing short of a miracle. Cayman owes you both for fighting the good fight challenging the status quo and delivering quality news reporting, independent media and critical thinking which inspires countless Caymanians to see the other side of the coin.

    Semper Occultus

  19. Anonymous says:

    Great article CNS. The state of local media is scary, especially when there is also a concentration of property ownership in a few hands.

  20. Anonymous says:

    The Compass took on a good few of the displaced C27 staff. How many did CNS take on?

    CNS: We couldn’t afford to take any of them on. We are very happy that they have found new jobs but sad that they couldn’t stay with Cayman 27, which would have been the better outcome all round. But well done for completely missing the point of the viewpoint, though. Impressive.

    • Anonymous says:

      So what are telling me is that one model is sustainable and the other not?

      So you are suggesting that the only way to provide news is to collaborate with the government?

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m not the one out there shaking my tip jar…

        CNS: If you read the news from elsewhere in the world you will be aware that the vast majority of news organisations, even very large ones with millions of readers, are now incorporating some funding by readers into their business model, either via a paywall or by donations, unless they have rich backers with a particular agenda (e.g. Breitbart). You’re choosing to denigrate our efforts to do the same because you don’t like CNS.

        • Anonymous says:

          No, I like it but lets be honest, it’s not really “news”. Like everyone else, I’m only here because you allow anonymous comments.

          CNS: Now you’re just being ridiculous.

          • Anonymous says:

            CNS and Compass differ only in the editorial slant of their articles. The comments are the only thing that stands out in CNS.

        • Anonymous says:

          That thumbs up was for CNS

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