Sunday, October 16, 2011

Freedom Of Speech (censorship in Cayman)

It’s disappointing to read of McKeeva’s lawsuit against Cayman News Service for defamation. The action makes no sense, and could well cause enormous damage to our Islands’ image overseas. Cayman is a much more sophisticated place than it was a generation ago when I had to fight censorship for criticising the ExCo of the day in the Chamber of Commerce Newsletter.

Ezzard called me “obnoxious” in the Legislative Assembly; Benson called the Chamber “a subversive organisation”. Dr Edlin pulled my Work Permit, and the Chamber had to scramble to prevent being closed down by the political establishment.

It was a serious dispute- but nobody sued. Presumably, the political heavies thought it would be too embarrassing, although it turned out to be embarrassing enough even without a lawsuit. Our criticism was robust but warranted. We called the new Labour Law “a lurch towards socialism”- which sounds hopelessly tame today but was inflammatory then.

Jim Graves, the Editor of the Nor’Wester magazine, had been expelled at the instigation of Jim Bodden a few years earlier. There was a big fuss over his Editorials, too - but nobody sued. Later, Jim Graves and I shook our heads over the irony that the very people who had brought him back to Cayman, after a few years of exile, were the ones now trying to get rid of me. “Well, that’s just what they’re like”, Jim said - meaning, Caymanian MLAs in general. “You today, me yesterday; who knows who they’ll go after next?”

There have been a couple of other victims along the way - and now it’s Nicky and Wendy, Daphne and Randy. Critics of our politicians can never relax, it seems. The faces change, but the censorship lives on.

The Protection Board, later the Immigration Board, was always the censors’ weapon of choice. Traditionally it was packed with anti-expats; as a general statement, all the immigration-related Boards still are. I’m surprised Randy’s Work Permit employees weren’t targeted for deportation, instead of the radio station being sued. Dear oh dear: no respect for tradition!

My persecution in the late 1980s was reported by the Jamaica Gleaner (“A Climate of Censorship”) and Offshore Alert (“ExCo Hillbillies”). Selected English newspapers were being lined up when the FCO quietly stepped in and called off the dogs. There was no coverage by Cayman’s mass media, of course. The Caymanian Compass shrank even further into its “see no evil” shell; the Chamber of Commerce was gradually subverted by political cronies and reduced to the lap-dog it is now.  

CNS is pretty much all we have, today. CaymanNetNews prints my weekly columns (several of which are politically incorrect, though not all) as well as its own sometimes very critical Editorials; Knal and I do our blogs. Otherwise it’s just the Wendy & Nicky show, and all the contributors to their forums.

I don’t believe the general public can afford to let their website be neutered. Cayman is a much more prominent target than it used to be, and censorship by what Offshore Alert is bound to call “Hillbillies” will become a hot topic internationally, sooner or later. If someone close to the citadels of power can get these lawsuits withdrawn, he or she would be doing Cayman a wonderful service.

It’s an axiom of human-rights activism that without freedom of speech no other freedoms can survive. As we know, human rights are as yet unrecognised by Cayman’s authorities. All the same, the sight of a human-rights-inspired Gender Equality Law being debated in the same month as an act of blatant censorship is way too bizarre to pass unremarked by many of our international critics.